January 3, 2014 richie

Post Mortem for Ludum Dare 28 game Smooth Operator

Hey all! I wrote up a post mortem for my Ludum Dare game Smooth Operator for the Ludum Dare site. Though I would share it here on the Super Soul blog as well.

 

Smooth Operator is my LD 28 entry and my 3rd comp entry.  It is also my most successful Ludum Dare entry (in my opinion). So without further ado, lets post mortem!

What went right

Most of the last day was testing and polish

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I learned this one the hard way during my first compo dance. I developed a platformer (first time) and did not have another person play it until a few hours before deadline. It was apparent then that the controls were floaty and difficult, but there was no time to really iterate. What resulted was a frustrating control scheme that hampered any other interesting or compelling qualities the game had.

I am very pleased with my time management and scope on this LD, which left me all of Sunday to test and polish. Perhaps even more important though, this time left to test and polished was sufficient to work at a relaxed pace, meaning those hidden gems and changes that reveal themselves only toward the end could be investigated instead of put on a list for a post compo version. (There is still a list! but I got to address the most intriguing/simplest to execute issues during the compo). I spent this time adding in some juiciness and nice feedback for the player, while also having some friends play the game and making some adjustments based off their feedback. (We had a local meetup for the compo at the offices of my company, Super Soul, which was great for feedback, testing and all around great times!)

I went home the first night AFTER having a basic prototype to test a few times

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The first night I spent in its entirety developing the code, visuals and sfx to have a functioning prototype to play a few times before going home. This gave me a nice metric to judge how the rest of the weekend would go. It also separated Friday and Saturday along a nice line, Friday being prototype, Saturday being implementing the game. Driving home Friday night and waking up Saturday morning, I had a significant amount to mull over, while also having a fairly clear direction of what I needed to accomplish on Saturday. After spending the first few hours on Saturday planning and designing what I needed to execute on, the rest of the day was fairly straightforward implementation.

I found a good balance between the different ingredients of my LD cake

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I attended a talk by Jenova Chen years ago where he discussed a game being as strong as its weakest element. He illustrated this with a bucket full of water, and each core element of the game represented one wooden slab of the bucket. Each slab’s vertical length corresponded to its quality and execution, thus the water in the bucket was only as high as the lowest slab. I really enjoyed this metaphor for game development, and I now try to follow through on this concept whenever I am working towards building an experience through a game, as opposed to when I am working on a demo and/or investigating some aspect of game development.

I did a pretty good job of dedicating the proper amount of time to mechanics, visuals, sound, UI, feedback, etc. so the game is pretty equal on all fronts. There are many areas I would like to improve, but for the time restraints I am happy that I didn’t allow myself to be consumed by one aspect or ingredient to the detriment of others. I believe the relative times needed for each element, wooden slab or ingredient, to be proportional to my skill and speed, and the relative importance is dependent on the game and its goals. So for Smooth Operator I really wanted a solid experience, in and of itself. While it may be a shallow experience, I believe it has a decent level of polish and consistency to it to give a feeling of completeness (for a jam game of course! )

What went wrong

The game needs depth, as it stands it is a novelty

I am pretty happy with how people have responded to Smooth Operator, and it is certainly my best compo to date. However, I feel there is something missing in the game, and the absence of this something, whatever it is, is why the game lacks depth. As it stands, I think the game provides enjoyment, but is not a game you would want to keep coming back to. To me this is a result of a combat system that while fun, lacks any depth that allows/encourages players to develop and refine their skills, develop strategies, etc. that results in a sense of progression and accomplishment in the players abilities.

I am working on a post compo version of the game now, trying out different ways of adding complexity and depth to the combat. My goal is to keep the input and controls simple, but adding more ways the player can use these inputs, which I hope leads to more strategy and depth. I hope that I can figure out that something that can keep a player coming back.

The visuals should do more to give the game style

I want the game to ooze style. It doesn’t :( It is a decent start, but nothing along the lines of what I would have liked. I think some of this stems from the menus lacking the smooth personality I would have liked. I also feel the game has a bit of a personality crisis, wanting to be comical and frantic during combat, then smooth and slick the rest of the time. Well, writing this just made me reallize I am not sure what I want the game to be! No wonder I failed on this. Oh and I am not very happy about my color scheme. I wanted it flat and iconic, and I was leaning towards a 70’s groove style. But there is something about the colors that kinda bother me. Oh well…post compo!

I continue to slap on UI elements such as controls and how to play

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I guess my rationale is that it is 48 hours and info such as controls and how to play descriptions are important only for functionalities sake. However, I just got done commenting in the things I did right about the importance of all game elements executed to the same degree to maintain a games integrity! For 48 hours I think it is somewhat acceptable, but it frustrates me that my menus and descriptions appear to be an after thought. After all, this is the first experience the player has of the game, and establishes the tone for their experience.

I would like to find better ways to implement my game screens and info. I really don’t have any good ideas, but I certainly love many of the ways others have handled this info in their games, so I am not lacking inspiration and research content. My hope is that moving forward I can integrate this content into the tone and aesthetics of the game itself, which should increase the overall experience and consistency of the game.

Well, that is it. Thanks for reading. You can find my game here: http://www.ludumdare.com/compo/ludum-dare-28/?action=preview&uid=13158

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