21 Apr

Ludum Dare 32: Skull Bomb Game Jam Post Mortem

I did my first game jam this weekend! I participated in the jam portion of Ludum Dare 32 and made a little game called Skull Bomb (play it here). The theme was “An Unconventional Weapon” and after it was announced I brainstormed a bit before settling on ‘blowing yourself up’ as my interpretation of the theme. I didn’t want to have my player character blowing up other humans so I decided to make the game about a world taken over by evil robots. This also worked in my favor that I didn’t have to program any sort of realistic AI.

I’ve been really wanting to do a Ludum Dare since I learned about it but being a dad, having a job, etc always seem to stand in the way of coming up with 48 uninterrupted hours on the jam weekends. This time I decided to not let that stop me and jammed in the hours after my kids bedtime, for a total of maybe 16 or so hours over the 72 hour jam period. I’m really glad I did!
What went well:

I made a game! Not waiting for the perfect moment and the planets to align allowed me to actually make something.

I scoped correctly. I picked a topic I was able to finish in the time I had without crazy crunching.

Used Unity 5. That went well, Unity ran smoothly, few crashes and weird bugs. I think it crashed once.

Using Unity’s Navigation for AI. Setting up the enemy units as Navmesh Agents worked great. I made an array of destinations and selected randomly from that to get enemies moving around un-predictably. Easy and effective.

Simple Sound Design. I added some spooky synth drones that I made with Logic X’s built in Sculpture synthesizer. Sculpture is a physical modeling synth and I love the timbres you can get out of it, I thought they set a good, ominous and abstract tone for the game.

Narrative via Voice Over. This was probably the best received aspect of the project. I wrote a simple voiceover script describing a dystopian sci fi world overrun by machines and laid out the players mission. I had my girlfriend N. read this and did a bit of editing and mixing in Logic. Details I was happy with that people commented on as well were the cut-up phone maze style strings of numbers that added to the overall dehumanizing atmosphere. Using a voice over was cheap and easy (maybe 2 hours work to write, edit, mix and implement) and added a whole narrative layer to the game that I thought was very effective. Because it ran in the background at startup it allowed the player to experience the narrative without having to wait, read or otherwise be delayed from experiencing the game play. Several people commenting on the game remarked on how well the voice over worked so that was definitely a high point.

New Genre/Mechanic. I’ve never tried to make a stealth / sneaking style game and was quite happy with that aspect of it. I definitely learned a lot and enjoyed working with the form in a short format. This is perhaps my favorite aspect of jamming, the chance to try out different genres or ideas in a short form, low stakes way and get feedback.

Art Style. The art style that I chose was simple, minimal and achievable. I was happy with the result and felt like it worked well with the theme. I got a few nice comments on it so I consider that a success, especially since I consider myself a non-artist. I also got pretty close to my initial ‘vision’ visually.

Getting Feedback / Iterating. By posting the build a few hours before the deadline I got some very useful, maybe critical feedback about playability, controls and clarity. This included a lack of clarity on where to go which I tried to address and not locking the mouse cursor which lead to issues in browser based play. Catching these early was good. I’ll definitely aim to do this in the future, getting those little bits of feedback before finalizing was great.

What went poorly:

Level Design. Several people commented that they wandered around, didn’t know where to go, couldn’t find the goal. The way I laid out the level had no clear (or unclear) path through it, it was just a big box. After getting that feedback I added a moment in the beginning where the player falls from high up and gets a chance to see the black box that represents the server. In hindsight I really gave the player almost no clues as to where to go. I even was considering initially having the monolith change it’s location each time player spawned to add replayability and difficulty. I realize now that that would have been a mistake.

Difficulty. The difficulty was very inconsistent. Sometimes the enemies randomly left big clear paths, sometimes they created impossible, inescapable situations. With more time or better planning I would have set up some more carefully planned routes for the AI to patrol that interlocked, created gaps etc. As Twitter friend @ChrisLaPollo points out though that these are the types of things that you learn in making a jam game and can polish up after.

Browser Support. Annoyingly Google Chrome dropped support for NPAPI plugins right before the jam breaking support for Unity Web Player. The game played fine in other browsers but this was just kinda annoying.

Control Tuning / Playtesting. Several players complained that the movement speed was a little slow. I actually bumped it up a bit but probably could have taken it up a little higher. More playtesting earlier probably would have helped this but given that I was jamming on my own in my apartment I didn’t have local playtesters available. In the future I’d like to try and jam with a team and / or at a space with other people. I think this would have helped a lot to catch this and some other issues before posting.

Play the game here, or watch a video below: