No More Boxes – Ludum Dare 31: How to maximise a Game Jam – Restrictions, Learnings, Getting Players

Hi all!

I¬†just completed Ludum Dare 31, and it was a fantastic experience with lots of things learned, things I’d love to share with ya’ll!

TL;DR summary:

Ludum Dare is a game jam – people from all over the world make a game in 48 hours.

Play my LD31 game No More Boxes here (4 players versus arena platformer) on Ludum Dare

And here’s a 4 player youtube gameplay video:

If you’re a Ludum Darer, especialyl hello! ūüėÄ

If you’ve read any of my posts from Ludum Dare 31, you’ll have seen how I celebrated this theme as a great restriction. While many¬†moaned about the theme being too open-ended, I really enjoyed that it was a mechanical restriction rather than a thematic one.

(I guess the “everyone hates it” perception comes from¬†confirmation bias for seeing negative posts but no “YAY LOVE THIS THEME” posts, after all the theme didn’t just materialise out of randomness – the majority of it voted for it in the slaughter for it to be chosen!)

How I interpreted the restrictions

In summary, I boiled “Entire Game One Screen” theme to these strict restrictions:

  • The entire game must exist on the screen when it starts
  • That means no instantiating new things
  • And because of the previous point, removing things would be bad as I couldn’t make new ones.
  • That means no bullets, no treasure chests/powerups/whatever, no collectibles.
  • No falling off the edge and disappearing… etc.

The thing with restrictions is that they really spark something different. Creativity with no restrictions is really, really stifling, in fact. So, embrace restrictions!

Setting learning goals

After I set that restriction for myself, I thought a bit more around what I wanted to get out of this jam. We as gamedevs (or gamedev wannabes) often have ideas that we don’t get around to making, and often that’s because we simply don’t have time or don’t know how. But if we never know how we never will know how.

So I thought about the stuff I wanted to learn with this time that I have now, so I can try and do THAT.

  1. I had been thinking about making a platform arena shooter. I haven’t really made a platform game controller before so I decided I’d do that.
  2. My platformer idea I had was to have players that could pilot robots, so players would control different things in the game at different points in time.
  3. I wanted to use built-in physics for hilarity – I usually stick to restricted movements with my game designs.

So with those in mind, I set out to design my game. A look at the outcome will show you that I’ve basically hit my learning goals:

  1. I made a platformer – the platformer controller was really tricky to get right, I could still improve it, but I now know a lot more about platformer controls. They are NOT easy at all, as I suspected when I started, but now I *know*.
  2. Players would come back as different characters, so I got the swapping controls between objects thing working, and I now understand it.
  3. Wrangling built-in physics so that it provided a good stable background against which platforming could happen was VERY tough. I had some experience with one of my previous prototypes Bear Chuck, but this was more freeform and thus harder. The results were glitchy but satisfactory, and a lot of learning was gleaned from it. As well as an idea of how I could improve the system.

 

Bonus: Give people the best chance of playing your game

As I sat through this year’s entries into LD I noticed a lot of problems that was excluding people from playing their game. Hell I made a fundamental “mistake” too, so let’s talk about that:

  1. The basic principle: LOWER BARRIER TO PLAY. This sounds so simple but so few people seem to keep it in mind. This encompasses many things:
  2. Web player. This is the single easiest and best way to get people to play your game Рit works across Macs, Windows, and is usually the best option to deliver your game on if you want people to play your game. And you do, obviously.
  3. Be aware of current affairs: I said “usually” in the above point because Chrome is having a row with Unity web plugin. You can find more details if you Googled for it, basically Unity acknowledges it as Google not liking a tech that they’ve been using and Google’s shut it down with Chrome. I’ve been using Safari as a backup to continue playing Unity web games, but so many people won’t know this and it just appears as if the developer screwed up. So…
  4. Deliver in as many platforms as you can: So yes you got a web player, but it’s better to get a Windows and OSX build up alongside – not only are more options intrinsically better for getting more people access, it also gives streamers more options, if you get their attention.
  5. Single player option – Always *try* to make your game so it’s possible to play single player. Finding other players to play with is TOUGH when everyone basically just finished a jam, is dog tired, and is in front of their laptops at home. That said, I obviously went and made a non-single player game… So I broke this rule, but I thought long and hard about it. If you have time to make a single player mode, or some REALLY RUDIMENTARY AI, or whatever, do it.
  6. Clear, simple, quick instructions. FIRST. Consider the possibility of people not reading. It will always happen, and their failure to get stuff working is your loss, not theirs. I stuck my instructions at the top above the game, and made it as simple and clear as possible. Fuck sentences, just get people to understand it.

 

So, whew, that’s a lot of text just on how Ludum Dare went. So I’m not gonna talk about the game for now. I might come back and write more about it, definitely gonna do a post-jam brush up of it, and finish up Amy, and maybe add more features I had in mind while playing like a shifting arena or 6 more characters ūüôā

Please go and give it a play! Here’s a little thing I made about the characters in No more Boxes ūüôā

NoMoreBoxesCharacters

7 Games in 7 Days in 30 Games in 30 Days

We’ve just completed the¬†30 Games in 30 Days Challenge with Gamelogic’s Grids in Gamemaker Studio! ūüėÄ

Grids is a superb plugin system for game devs that lets you very easily and quickly create things that make use of, well, grids. Gamelogic had started with a Unity version of Grids, with which they first ran a 30 Games in 30 Days Challenge to show how easy it was to use, and in the previous month, they ran the challenge with their new implementation of Grids for Gamemaker: Studio.

Twoplus Games were approached to make some of those games, which we were very excited to do. We took on 7 games in 7 days, for a nice, round week of solid prototyping jamming. It was super fun! The App Factory was also involved and made some great stuff.

The best of the batch

The ultimate goal of any game jam is to explore ideas quickly and quickly¬†find out what works or doesn’t work. Quickly ūüôā Did I mention quickly? ūüôā It is specifically with this in mind ¬†that we’ve made our seven games in Grids Gamemaker. And here they are – in order from our¬†most to least favourite! (Because we are critical of our own work :P)

 

Tetrifender (tentatively re-titled Krigsskibe)

Play it here!

Tetrominos are fascinating. Mathematically, one block is the same as another. But join them up and you’re inevitably left with gaps. Tetromino games are always about packing the most into the smallest space, which is kind of what Krigsskibe is about – but with a twist.

Enemy ships are invading, and your defences are your blocks. Create a square of 2×2 blocks and you get a turret that fires back. But the turrets also take one hit to dismantle as opposed to the four¬†hits the blocks could have defended your base with.

It’s a game of juggling economy, positioning and reaction. Really a lot of fun! Definitely one we¬†want to take further.

 

Pixel Perfect (tentatively re-titled Make This)

Play Make This now!

Another exploration of the world of Tetrominos, Make This is as simple as it is devious. Place tetrominos in the grid to make the target shape, which will be automatically removed once it is formed. The challenge comes in making the best use of the “garbage” left behind each time, as space gets tighter and tighter, and you inevitably run out of space to place your tetrominos. Relaxing, thoughtful, a bit zen, and a bit creative. I enjoyed this one ūüôā

 

Convader

Play Convader now!

For those who’re geek enough to recognise Conway’s Game of Life, ¬†Convader is a game that tries to use the famous mathematic life-simulation (click on that link for a full explanation of it) in a game. It’s really basic at the moment, but in future I do plan to take the concept much, much further. For now, it’s a fun little toy.

 

Add Down

Play Add Down now!

Add down is like a crossword puzzle, but with numbers. And addition. Dragging a number to a neighbouring block adds the values, and drops the 1 if it goes to two places. (For example 7 + 6 = 13, which would be 3). Your goal is to make as many numbers as you can before you can’t make anymore!

 

Hex Raid

Play Hex Raid now!

Hex Raid is a visual experiment – using hex tiles to simulate 3D space, you play the role of an intrepid magical raider of this shapeshifting tomb, and must collect as many coins as you can before the time runs out. The time is extended by each coin you collect, so go go go! However you can only move up one step, so whenever you feel stuck, you can use the power of the mystical coin to shift the land beneath your feet! Whoa!

 

Cave Lander

Play Cave Lander now!

Cave Lander is an experiment in procedural level generation, and a take on the classic Lander formula. Fly around the cave to reach your destination before your fuel runs out… Remember that gravity hurts, and to refuel before you run out!

 

Hexavity

Play Hexavity now!

Hexagon Gravity. An experiment in gravity in a grid… Shift the gravity in one of the six hex directions, watch them hexes fall into place, and make matches when anything falls in a row of 3 or more!

Now for an impromptu lesson in game design – This game suffers from what’s known as lack of agency – the player has one of six choices to make (five if you don’t count the direction you’re already going in), and not one of those choices are really predictable of success. It’s next to impossible to tell which hexes will land where after a shift, so… it’s not a lot of fun.

But it only took a day, and that’s the point of prototyping! Only in testing can one¬†quickly find out what works and doesn’t work with an¬†idea. In this case, the shifting hexes were pretty to look at and interact with, but the condition of play less so. We’ve learned this in a day, and that’s what counts most!

 

And there you have it – our seven games within the bigger project of Game Logic’s 30 Games in 30 Days Challenge. A great big congratulations to everyone involved, Gamelogic for the call to arms, The App Factory¬†for also making some damn fine games, Liam Twose for¬†the #30DayDev concept!

AMAZE 2014 Joburg: Hypertalks

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A MAZE 2014 in Johannesburg was as usual a mind-blowing event. Gathering indie game developers from all around the globe to our humble city, this the third A MAZE marks two years from the day I discovered game dev as a possible career choice, during A MAZE 2012.

There were many many great things at this A AMAZE, meeting amazing people, listening to amazing things come out of their amazing minds. All of which can be found on the A MAZE Youtube Channel. A week’s worth of amazingness.

Here however, I want to show you the Hypertalks – talks by amazing people to show you that 5 minutes is all it takes to get you thinking. A MAZE had just released these videos (I had shaky iPhone shot versions which sucks, these are much better)

My favourite one is David Hayward‘s one where he plays Super Hexagon while talking about how it’s like his (other) favourite hobby ūüôā

Here they are! Enjoy!

 

rAge 2014 + Debut of Beat Attack

The rAge Expo has always been a landmark gaming event in South Africa, and this year has been no exception. Twoplus Games was there with a gaggle of fellow indie game devs with MakegamesSA and  to show off some top-notch home-brewed entertainment!

Dead Run, of course

Arthur Godstruck on Dead Run

 

We took two games to rAge, and the first is the soon-to-be-released endless twitch¬†zombie-bashing runner Dead Run, which has repeatedly surprised us with how much people love playing it even in an expo environment – see, it was designed for quick play sessions while waiting in a¬†queue, but instead people were queuing up to play it. It brings a smile to our faces ūüôā

You can play the Dead Run expo build right here: playdeadrun.com

Dead Run will be coming out soon on iOS (it’s sitting in the approval process which has had unforeseen hiccups), with Android and Windows Mobile to follow.

Beat Attack, the debutante

Pre-apologising to all @MakeGamesSA guys exhibiting with me at @rageExpo ūüôā #nightattheroxy

A video posted by Steven Tu (@tuism) on

The second game we brought was Beat Attack, a game we had been prototyping in the last month or so. rAge was the first time we had shown it to the public.

Beat Attack is our rhythmic one-button love letter to combo-licious competitive block-matching puzzle games – it ¬†was designed because we love versus puzzle games like Super Puzzle Fighter¬†and¬†Puyo Puyo, but couldn’t really find any that worked with my iPad. So we made our own! We also love DDR, and it all just fit so beautifully together. But more on Beat Attack’s origins later.¬†Beat Attack was super well received, the simple one-button competitive play was a joy to show people and just watch them fall¬†into the game, trying to get better and beat their friends’ ass. Which is exactly what we want out of Beat Attack!

You can play the Beat Attack expo build right now too: twoplusgames.com/beatattack

Beat Attack is currently in alpha and is definitely gonna get finished! Stay up to date by following us on Twitter!

Pictures

Here are just some of our photos from rAge, you can check out our full album for more photos!

These bad boys played at least 4 hours of Dead Run, coming back again and again to whack ever more zombies. Kudos!

Saturday’s Dead Run high scores!

The Akatsuki ninja trainin on Beat Attack

A heated conclusion to a heated game of Beat Attack.

Dead Run submitted + A MAZE 2014

Finally, in the most final of finallies, Dead Run has been submitted to the Apple app store! Now it’s just a matter of four weeks (so I’ve been told) worth of nailbiting anticipation¬†and anxiety.

In the meantime, we’ve just been through the a mazing A MAZE 2014 in Johannesburg. It was as fantastic as fantastic will ever get, and we had an amazing time with some of the most awesome people ever: Did a burn the Keyboard workshop with with¬†Jonatan¬†Sosowski¬†Van¬†Hove,¬†did a Controller making workshop with David Hayward, partied our faces off to Joonas Turner‘s incredible set played off of a NDS, saw Jukio¬†Kallio‘s¬†incredible LD30 virtual instrument thingies, and of course Rami Ismail‘s incredibly cool insights into the indie world, and Sos Sowski‘s boundless mad gamemaking energy.

And so much more!

This might be *the* way to play Dead Run at rAge 2014?! ūüėÄ

deadrun_controller

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