The Jam

On the weekend of April 22nd, I participated in my second game jam. I wrote about my first one here. Me and my friend had 72 hours to make a game. Spoiler alert, here’s the final product: Mino’s Pond.

This one was a bit different because I was collaborating with my friend in a different time zone, so we had to make some accommodations. We made sure our sharing tools and comms were up and running before the start time.

 

The Theme:

Engine start, the theme was: A Small Room

To be honest, I was a little disappointed with the theme. I think it was the second place theme of the last jam, and has been used before in another ludum dare. I also felt it was a bit generic / over done. Either way, that wore off pretty quickly and we got into it.

A stipulation my partner and I agreed upon before was that we wanted to avoid making a platformer. Everyone, including myself, tends to make platformers. We wanted to do something else. As I did last jam, I dedicated the very first hour to brainstorming. To keep our ideas independent and innovative, we shut down comms for the first 30 minutes and then discussed our ideas with the rest of the hour.

I think the best way to go about this process is to just literally write down everything that comes into your head. This time around, I tried to keep it a little more organized by separating thoughts into concepts and mechanics, but those categories were quickly muddled.

So we took at look at some of our ideas/influences:

  • A perfectly round world, controlled from a third person / godlike perspective.
  • Dwarf fortress management sort of thing.
  • God Sim.
  • A micro world inside of something else (like a car battery).
  • Stick-RPG-esque floating city.
  • The Disney-land ride.
  • A giant person on a tiny planet.
  • Pikmin type management.
  • Tower management.
  • Start from nothing and build pieces of the world outwards.
  • Orbital gameplay.
  • Simulated world (i.e. The Truman Show).
  • You play as a bird who lives and dies in a cage.

Those were the main topics we came up with. We kept coming back to management games so we went along with that. Being overly ambitious, we also liked the idea of the Stick-RPG city to train your character in. This is where a producer would step in and say “Hey you, stop that!” Somewhere along the way, we decided to use Earthbound as the main artistic reference.

So our basic concept was there: a mysterious meteorite lands in some kid’s bedroom and he has to essentially keep this world alive. We wanted to play more with the concept of bringing everyday objects into this world (i.e. a water bottle would fill a giant lake in the tiny world), but that mechanic fell a little flat due to time constraints.

 

The Development:

I’m the most experienced in the editor we were using (Construct 2), so I was the main coder. My partner did 99.5% of the art as well as the sound effects and music. The key mechanic that drove the management gameplay was our Regions. We had 6 regions that contained their own type of Mino (the race that occupied the meteorite).

The type of Mino and corresponding regions were:

City – Science Minos 

Mountian – Rock Minos 

Forest – Wood Minos 

Desert – Electric Minos 

Plains – Food Minos 

Ocean – Water Minos 

Dramatically simplified, this is how the coding went:

In the editor, I built block outs of each region, then created a functioning UI system. After that, I implemented the Minos with a placeholder AI. Next was resource collection, the building system, the food and water systems, filling in the Mino AI, and building/resource upgrades. During the bug fixing and polishing stages we hooked up the overworld system which my partner built in a different editor. Contruct 2 isn’t the best tool for collaborating so this was a bit of a pain.

60% of that was done in the final 24 hours, in which neither of us slept. You could call this poor planning, or just making the most we could out of 72 hours. A process I enjoyed to take my mind off some of the AI bugs was building the Mino word. Here’s a cool gif of that process:

While I was trying to give these little creatures life, my friend toiled away at the art for their base upgrades. Here are some of my favorites:

 

The Result:

Some things went pretty well: overall I think the Minos are really charming and the world they create is child-like and imaginative. Their appearance and sounds (created in bfxr) give them a lot of personality. Their AI ended up working pretty well it’s incredibly satisfying to see hundreds of them autonomously living out their lives.

A few things didn’t quite turn out as we wanted. The overworld was pretty half-baked due to time constraints. We did intentionally push it to be the final thing we added and were prepared to scrap it if we needed to. We ended going through with it, though maybe our time should have been spent polishing the Mino world. The school component is barely a mechanic, and the store was essentially used as a way to give the players free resources because we didn’t have enough time to balance the building/upgrade requirements. In a fuller version of this, I would love to make more interactions between the two worlds.

 

The Takeaway:

This was definitely another insightful and worthwhile endeavor. For the next Ludum dare, I think I’d like to try the constraints of the compo (48 hours with no team) and try to go in with a very, very simple idea. Next time I want to focus on a very simple mechanic, and using 90% of the time for polish.

I haven’t been able to play a lot of entries yet due to the site issues, but of the ones I played so far, these two were some of my favorites, check them out: Carefulzilla, Flurpies. Also, I’ll be happy to play your game if you mention me on twitter!