Friday, November 30, 2012

Post Mortem: Fat Men Can’t Jump

This is the first of hopefully many blog posts in which I dissect a game of mine after receiving feedback on it. The subject of this particular autopsy is my very first Flash game called “Fat Men Can’t Jump.” This game has the dubious distinction of being only one of two entries to the Game in Ten Days (GiTD) contest that did not get a single vote. Anyone who wants to try this game can find it here.

Most of the people who voted in the GiTD did not leave any feedback on my game. The few comments I received are like gold to me because they gave me clues as to what went wrong and what I could have done to improve the game. Below are the comments my game received with the names of the voters withheld.

A GiTD with an AI? Wow. Even if dumb. I wonder if plain holding space would remedy for “exact timing” :D
Hurray I won. But there is no replay value.
IDK how to bounce…
They may not be able to jump, but they can stick to the walls indefinitely. The collisions seem…broken in this game at the moment.

From what I can glean based on the above feedback, it seems that there are three main issues with this particular game:

  1. The game physics is broken. I must have spent only thirty percent of my total development time on the games physics and mechanics. Much of my time was spent on making art resources and figuring out how to customize the avatar’s appearance. Considering that the physics and mechanics of a game comprise its very essence, I should have spent seventy percent of my time on them instead.
  2. The mechanics of trying to hit the space key at the avatar’s precise point of collision was confusing to players. In my own play tests, I often found myself hitting the space key repeatedly in the hope that one of my key presses would coincide with the moment of impact. This does not make for good gameplay.
  3. The game is over fast. There are no additional levels or opponents to go up against beyond the first one.  Considering that the gameplay itself is bad, this may actually be a merciful blessing for my players, but the fact remains that people expect more from a game.

So there you have it – the three reasons why my first Flash game did not get any votes. If there are other reasons for it being bad, I’d love to hear them. I invite all readers who chose to try my game to post their feedback here. Your comments may help me improve my game development skills.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

Last month, someone posted a request on the Kongregate forums for an artist to collaborate with him on a Flash game he is developing. Despite already having my own project in the works, I liked his demo so much that I volunteered to work as the artist on his game.

At around the same time, another person posted on the Kongregate forums a request for a programmer to help her develop a tower defense game she designed. No one volunteered to help her then, although someone else gave her a link to a tutorial on how to make tower defense games in Stencyl. As she went through the tutorial, she would post a question on the forums about problems she sometimes encountered, and I would post my solutions for her.

After two weeks, one of the forum moderators announced an upcoming contest called GiTD # 27. “GiTD” stands for Game in Ten Days. It’s a game jam where interested parties may create Flash games within the prescribed period as soon as the contest theme is announced. After the deadline, forum members may vote for the two games that they liked the most, with the first choice getting two points and the second placer getting one point. After a short period, the votes are tallied, and the winner gets a prize as well as bragging rights. Participants who post their work-in-progress on day 7 for others to critique would automatically get two free music tracks that they may use in their entries and any other game they make from then on. Although I have never completed a Flash game of my very own before, I messaged the moderator, telling him that I was interested in joining this contest.

One hour after having sent the moderator my message, I received another private message from the tower defense designer, who asked to chat with me over Skype. When I logged on, we discussed her game for a while, and I briefly looked over her game design document and artwork. Now I don’t know what possessed me at that point, but I told her that programming a tower defense game was so easy that I was tempted to do it for her. Perhaps it was my natural tendency to want to help people in any aspect of game development. Or maybe it was a moment of insanity. Whichever the case, I actually wound up volunteering for the job. I warned her, though, that I already had two other projects ongoing, so her project would be third on my list. She said that as long as her game was completed by December, she would be okay with that. GiTD # 27 had not yet officially started then, but when it eventually did, I wound up with four ongoing projects. Count them, four. I really am a mad game developer.

Well, the GiTD was over in ten days, so now I’m down to three projects. The sad part was that my entry did not get a single vote. I have no regrets about joining the GiTD though. Trying to cobble a working game together in such a short time frame was an amazing experience. Being accustomed to thinking things through before acting on my plans, I was completely yanked out of my comfort zone and forced to adopt a fast and disciplined way of working. At the end of it all, I can now honestly say that I’ve actually completed a Flash game. I would love to join another game jam, although I really ought to finish the projects that I’m helping others with before I do.