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Darwin Gator post-mortem (overdue)

I think making a game is always a great learning experience, yet not writing a post-mortem after a game makes that learning experience less effective.

I’ve made Darwin Gator a few months ago, but I’ll try to remember its development process. So without further ado let us talk about:

Darwin Gator

Originally, the game was made for a GameJam which asked to combine a lot of random themes, along with a gamejam about monsters, a gamejam about destruction… well yeah. This game was a mess in terms of ideas, because it was entered in many many gamejams. But after leaving it for a while, I decided to work more on it. For some reason, I was motivated to take this game to the next level in terms of quality, so this game actually ended up very different from the original gamejam entries.

  • The graphics

It’s mostly my friend Sophie who encouraged me to improve the graphics of this game by an order of magnitude. I think everything grew from there, because at that time there was only one stage, with bricks. As I drew the extra layer of plants on top of the bricks, the game looked not just more beautiful, but it also started to have some artistic style. To further the graphics, I made a total of three stages. One is the first stage in the forest, second stage is the ice world, and the third stage is the underwater world. Each having its own art style and music.

  • The penguin missions

One of the biggest addition of Darwin Gator is the mini-games. I decided that every 5 or 6 levels there will be an unlocked game, in which the gameplay has nothing to do with the main levels’ gameplay. The first mini-games is a bit like Flappy Bird, the second one is a guessing game, the third one a snowboarding game (which was also released as a standalone game called King of the Slope), and the last one is the secret insanely difficult boss. To unlock the mini-games, you had to visit a penguin at each level. The penguin itself was just a way to unlock the mini-game, but he also has a different dialog every time you meet him. Eventually, I found that the dialog of the penguin made for a more compelling story than the story of the game itself! The story of the game is completely forgettable: Collect all the worms to save the world yadiyada… But the story with the penguin actually became very interesting: First the penguin loses his job, then his girlfriend has a baby, and the first mini-game is to rescue that baby, then he tries to sell icecream… It’s too bad that the penguin missions are not easily accessible, because I think some people will miss that part, which I find to be the most interesting. But hey, that’s how I decided to design the game.

  • The problems

One of the biggest challenge of the game is the control. I insisted that the game has to be playable by pressing just one button, but it turns out to be more problematic than I expected. A character controllable with one button, is really not that pleasant to control. One problem is that I kept testing the game over and over, and thus learned controlling Darwin Gator with great precision by doing lots of practice. When I released the game, I really thought the character’s control was easy, but it seems quite a few people had issues with the controls. When I asked my friend to test it, it turns out the controls were so hard to use, that even the second or third level was too difficult to pass.

  • Overall

The game wasn’t as popular as I hoped it could be but it was satisfying as a game. While it’s hard to control, I found it fun to play it myself. I guess I wished it could do better because of how much time I’ve spent working on it. Yet it game me somehow a new perspective on my game development journey. I now feel that there is some level of quality that I should try to reach when making games. I was always used to pump out quick games for participating into gamejams, but now I’m trying to always have a main game on which I spend a lot of time and effort, one that I can really polish and make it look good.

You can play Darwin Gartor here.

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My disastrous attempt at joining four game jams simultaneously

What’s up with game jams these days? How come making game has become such a popular hobby? In the past, I usually would have to wait several months for Ludum Dare, and occasionally there’d be game jams popping up now and then. Well now, just look at compohub.net for the list of game jams crammed within the last weekend:

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That’s eleven game jams going on exactly at the same time! I’m not complaining… does it sound like I’m complaining? I just think it’s crazy. How can people participate in all of those jams? I know you’re not supposed to do that, but jams are not like movies. They don’t stay a couple months in the theater. Well you know what’s even crazier? Trying to participate to as many jam as possible, with one game! So I joined the madness and did that.

I wouldn’t say this post is about what not to do. I’m sure it’s doable and it would be quite a feat. Just letting you know though that my attempt was pretty disastrous. I wouldn’t say it’s really a failure. At the end, I got a game that seems to have potential. But if you do want to try to cram four or more game jams into a single game, I think you’ll find this post useful.

One game to join them all

There’s many jams I had to cross out.

  • The Interactive Fiction seemed more like text base, or at least story based.
  • I was thinking I’d join Indie Quilt, but it actually requires Unity. It seems really interesting (a game collab made by several dev for a game to be sold for charity). Hopefully I’ll be able to learn Unity by the deadline. It’s piece of cake, right?
  • At first I wanted to join GDSE, but somehow it needs an stack exchange account with a reputation of 5 to join. What kind of elitist sh*t is that? I can’t join with my reputation score of 1, which I got just by creating an account?
  • Nine Worlds Game Jam seemed like it was location based. It seems to require reading a book, which I’m not good at.
  • Ripples of Change… I could still make that one, but I really don’t have any good idea to make a game with water.
  • I was thinking of joining Arbitrary Gamejam 12 this time, but I really couldn’t understand any of the themes. I know the definition of each word was spelled out, but I couldn’t really visualize what each word really meant. Why can’t they pick a theme like potatoe?!
  • Ruled out the ASCII game jam. I didn’t make ASCII art since my first game ever, about twenty years ago.

At the end, there were four games jams left. (five if I include OneGameAMonth, which I usually join automatically). Alpaca Game Jam, Epic Game Jam, Monster Mash, and Spectre Game Jam (not mentioned on compohub.net).

Like I mentioned before, if you’re going to have a game in multiple jams, you might end up with a mess of random ideas. I pretty much got what I asked for.

For monster jam, I just had to make my main character a monster so that was easy. To join alpaca, I had to include destruction. That’s the reason I added the ability to destroy bricks with bombs. The theme for Spectre jam was glow. It had other themes too, but glow was the obligatory one. I’m sure they will roll their eyes when the only way I could include the theme was: “collect the glow thingy to finish the level”. Yeah that’s kinda cheap. Now there was also this epic game jam. Turns out Epic Game Jam by itself doesn’t have just one theme, but something like 20 themes. I know you don’t have to do all of them, but some of the elements in there are quite tempting. Also, I’m not sure I did quite well with the main theme (“First Time”… hey it’s my first time drawing pixel art for my game!). So I tried to include a few of their subthemes (Rainbow duck, Red haired turtles, alcoholic carrot…).

For all the art, I used the makepixelart tool, which lets you make pixel art online. I found this tool to be quite amazing, except for not having the ability to import pixel art I produced. (well I’m sure they have that ability if I paid the $2 they ask for…)

Need better time management

I think what I needed for making this game is better time management. I really just crammed a lot of ideas into the game before I actually had what I could consider a game. My friend was also giving me ideas, but it really took a while before I could stop cramming ideas and really make the game. Also, that weekend wasn’t completely free for me. There was World Cup and July 4th, and I have to eat! I give a lot of excuse, but really the culprit was Civilization 5, which I keep getting addicted to. I really need to control myself.

The game was realized unfinished for Alpacala and Epic Game Jam so I had to finish it the next day. I really thought I’d make Monster Mash deadline, but compohub.net had the time wrong due to the difference of time zone, so I missed the submission deadline (which is a bummer since it’s really the one jam where my game really seems to fit). I also submitted for Spectre game jam, but given my dodgy interpretation of the theme, I don’t expect much.

At the end, this helped me get out Darwin Gator, which had a unique gameplay that I’ve been wanting to experiment with for a long time: A puzzle platform game with one-button control (because it’s designed for mobile).

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