Monday, April 28, 2014

Coffin / Ludum Dare #29 Post-Mortem

So recently I posted that I was participating in Ludum Dare, a solo, 48-Hour Game Jam competition.  After the rather hectic, 48-hour period, I did complete a game!  Entitled Coffin, this game can be found on the Ludum Dare page here.

We were encouraged to write journal entries throughout the course of the jam; I wrote 9 total:

A lot of people write post-mortems or retrospectives of their game, so I decided to do the same.

Interpreting the Theme

So before entering Ludum Dare, I had several ideas in mind.  This, in my experience, is usually a no-no for themed game jams as the final theme can turn that idea on its head or make it completely unusable -- unless you bullshit a wild correlation.  During this Ludum Dare, participants were asked to vote on a theme, which I think contributed to my scheming in advance, voting up themes I liked and those that I wouldn't have an idea for.  I liked the voting, but I think no voting would have forced me to go into this without 0 (or fewer) ideas.
Anyway, after the theme, Beneath the Surface, was announced, I thought for about 20 minutes -- waiting for the pizza I ordered to arrive -- but succumbed to one of the ideas I had earlier.
My recent Oculus Rift research had a heavy influence on my idea, particularly with how it can make you feel like you're in an experience.  Of course, there are a lot of rules, such as too much movement in the character that contradicts the player's movement can cause motion sickness, especially when locking the view.
I also wanted it to be creepy and scary as I feel the Oculus is a great outlet for creating these types of experiences.  My current inspiration for maximum creepiness is a this rather and quite frankly disturbing music video directed by Eric Wareheim:

Pretty creepy right?  I won't post the video as it's kind of NSFW, but you can search for it yourself

Anyway, I interpreted the theme to a rather terrifying experience -- being buried alive.  I didn't want to do just do being buried alive though; this was a game jam, not an experience jam.  So instead, I wanted some other idea in it.  I wanted to add some elements to the game that would make the player understand why they were being buried.  I eventually came up with the idea that you were some sort of immortal wizard or witch that is being buried alive to keep everyone safe from your magic.
Unfortunately, this was all I really had.  I had the idea that you are in the coffin, that there is a glass window and you can see rocks falling in from above, covering the glass.
After fighting with physics for a couple of hours -- which I always end up doing even though I say that I despise wasting time with it -- I was able to achieve the effect I want:


Also, a quick physics note, mostly for myself, but if you want to use Unity3D's physics and move an object from point A to B and use Physics, making it "jump", here's a quick code snippet for doing so:

Vector3 startPosition, goalPosition; 
float speedFactor; 
rigidbody.position = startPosition; 
rigidbody.velocity = speedFactor * (goalPosition - startPosition) - (Physics.gravity * 0.5f) / speedFactor;

In the above, if you want an object to be moved from a starting position to a goal position with velocity, I found this to work.  The speed factor is just a little touch for making the object move more quickly or more slowly.  It's probably game physics 101, but I always forget how to do this when encountered with moving an object from its current position to a goal position with a little jump.  In my game, I didn't use the speed factor, hence why the initial sequence is so long; also filling that window with rocks was a pain. 

Making Something I'm Not

At the beginning of day two, I was trying to figure out the actual gameplay of my entry.  I somehow had the idea that you are buried underground because you have some sort of artifact or puzzle box.  You're buried with it, but now it is the only thing that can save you.  With this, I feverishly began modeling and conceptualizing ideas for a puzzle box similar to that in the iOS game, The Room.  I skinned, rigged, and textured my mysterious sphere and was ready to solve my first (juvenile) puzzle!

The puzzle sphere broken apart

My idea was simple.  You'd rotate and push various parts of the model to complete a pattern that would ultimately glow and take you to the next scene.  If you failed to complete it in a given period of time, you'd get a scare!
As I worked though, I realized that programming this to feel good would take a long time, especially with all of the extra work I wanted to put into the game as a whole.  I contemplated quitting, but I don't like to give up, so I rethought my idea.  I thought about what kind of game would I want to play.  I wanted to keep the puzzle, but the more I worked with it, going from the sphere to a flat plane, I realized the puzzle solving wasn't going to happen.  Instead, I decided to go an entirely different route:  rail-shooting.
I enjoy rail-shooters like Resident Evil:  The Umbrella Chronicles.  Of course, this wouldn't be on rails since you are confined to such a confined, claustrophobic space.  I did have the idea that some imp would drag you out of the coffin and then you'd have to shoot rocks and bats, but this never came to fruition.  I had a lot of ideas that never came to fruition such as a dialogue between two guys who were burying you.  Why did I think I'd get time to record myself doing two unique voices despite having almost 0 voice acting experience?  Well, it's fun to dream, which I find happens during a lot of game jams.
Anyway, after realizing I wanted a shooter and determining that solving a puzzle while shooting wasn't going to work, I built a system in which three "buttons "would be on the sides and top of the coffin which would activate different magic!  I finally had my game figured out!  It did, sadly, feel a little late as if I would have used the time to make the puzzle sphere and jump immediately to this idea, I probably could have done a lot more with the game such as texturing.
In fact, the entire last day felt like a mad rush just to get what I wanted.  I didn't get to texture anything, which quite frankly isn't really needed here and the audio was also rushed.  I did get the main components:  projectiles, creepy hands, a bound main character that seemed like you were actually playing them, and a super creepy boss with animations that I really wish was less suggestive.

So How Do I Think I Did?

When competed solo, Ludum Dare is a competition, but honestly I don't care about winning or losing.  I was more or less doing this against myself to see what I could do working alone in a short period of time, especially after such a long period of creative stagnation from writing the GML book.  I feel I made something interesting for only two days.  I could only imagine how this could be with two weeks or two months -- two years would be crazy as my attention span isn't long enough.  Honestly, however, I probably won't continue this game.
In fact, making this game, made me wonder:  Why even do game jams (or at least a solo one)?  The deadline is a good motivator, but I know I'm disciplined enough to get things done quickly, so that isn't really the challenge.  The bigger challenge for me is working with a unique theme.  I have themes in my head and ideas I want to prototype, so the theme sometimes feels like it gets in the way.
What I should probably do is keep a backlog of game ideas I want to prototype and when participating in game jams like this, or heck, just picking a free weekend to punch something out, and work on making a prototype for that idea, even if it uses assets that I'll end up throwing away.
Overall, I think I succeeded.  I completed a working game.  I experimented with things in Unity I don't touch often:  Physics, post-processing effects, dynamic lighting.  I also experimented a bit with Substance Painter, which I think is a neat texturing tool but doesn't quite do what I want it to do when it comes to texturing.  Though I'm not sure what I really want in such a tool anyway; I'm still looking for a program to texture 3D models.  In addition, I realized, I normally neglect the elements of a game I am terrible at during a game jam -- in this case, texture and audio.
In summary, I should have either picked a game idea I wanted to prototype more strongly than this, one that I'll want to continue with, or at least know the actual gameplay of my game instead of the initial cinematic experience.  I shouldn't focus on elements of polish without completing major elements either.  Regardless, I still think I was successful and though I'm not sure whether or not I will do the next Ludum Dare, I will definitely consider it.  Anyway, here is a video of my game, Coffin:


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