Ludum Dare #40 : «The more you have, the worse it is»


Ludum Dare #40 : «The more you have, the worse it is»

And here we go again, for a new Ludum Dare, 40th of its name! I missed a couple of Jam this year, due to my new Game Design job a@Ubisoft Annecy, and a private life going faster and faster :)

For the 40th Ludum Dare, the selected theme was « The more you have, the worse it is ». A pretty interesting theme, allowing for a lot of interpretations. Louis (Programming),  Arthur Dos Santos (Sound Design) and I (Game Design) teamed up again. But this time, we were joined by three graphic artists : Skreed (Pixel Artist) & Thibaut (Concept Artist), helped by Melissandre (Support Graphic Artist). So now it’s been a few days since the end of the Ludum Dare 40, and it’s Post-mortem time!

Ludum Dare #40 : « The more you have, the worse it is »

For this Jam session, we did remote work, all synced on a dedicated Discord channel. We woke up early on saturday morning, and gathered on Discord at 8am (GMT+1) to briefly talk about the theme annoucement. We took a moment to think by ourselves, and then brainstormed for a good part of the first morning. We discussed a lot about the kind of mechanics that could fit the constraint. We had a few ideas about a light system that would grow and bring more ennemies, then on a fire that you would have to keep burning, but each time something was missing. All the team was liking the fire concept, but we struggled about what could motivate the player to feed the fire.

Then came the plants :) They were the perfect medium to let a fire spread. I briefly pitched the growing system, and how the player could have to take care of the plants, otherwise they would burn and spread to burn more and more plants. So the more you have, and the worse to handle it is. We had our mechanic theme-ready!

Now let’s enter into Glowing Meadow development. First of all, what is Glowing Meadow? Well, it’s the game we made, and you can learn more about the finished product and where to download it on its own page, RIGHT HERE.

Working a LudumDare in a « big » Team

As we were a bigger team than ever, we needed a strong organization. All the team made a wonderful work regarding this. On my side, as I was able to focus on Game Design, I made sure that every mechanic, player action and states would be documented, with their animations and sounds needs. My goal was to keep the game really simple, with a limited number of mechanics that could be easy to understand, to learn and to remember. Each interaction should also work with all objects, so the player could use of strategy and tactic to manage all the plants of the field.

Louis quickly started to work on the Engine of the Game, that was already pretty smooth after a few iterations. In a blink, thanks to his talent, we had a smooth movement of the player, and a spread system for our basic plants. Everything was up and running, and ready to be tweaked DATA-side, so I only had to adjust the speed of the movement, or the frequency of the spread. Arthur was already thinking about the music background, and a few sounds to dress the already made animation of our character watering plants. Again, I want to congratulate the team for their efficiency, that was really impressive.

Interaction scheme (plants life cycle, player actions, spread system…)

Balancing, again, and again, and…

So we had our prototype. We were now able to cut and water blue and green squares, yay! We continued to go on adding stuff (water charges, be able to refill, small plants, weeds, spreading, and even fire). Then Louis took a break with the gameplay to start working on our small cutscenes. Louis, Arthur and I discussed about how to create the player motivation to gather more and more plants, while working on our own topics, and we finally sorted it out. He would have to maintain a certain number of plants at the same time. There would be gaps, that will unlock power-ups to help him in this objective.

So I started to design the power-ups and the rythm of unlock, while still tweaking the spreads and reworking the interaction scheme to better fit the game constraints. In the meantime, our top notch artists were doing great, with almost all the plants animations up and running, the cutscenes designed and « pixel-arted », and the v1 background already implemented.

Things were moving on, we were at Day 2 and Louis almost had our Gameflow and Engine done. Thanks to Arthur, we also had many sounds to improve the mood and the global quality of the game. The music theme was already there, and so was the winning and loosing themes. On my side, I started to work on the Level Design of the game, be it the tutorial or the start setup. As our game is based on a spread system, it was important to fine-tune the start situation to prevent a too easy or too hard setup that would totally unbalance the whole game. As we were discussing with Louis about the tutorial, we agreed that we should avoid a too heavy Learning process, so we went for short steps with a quick text integrated to the game situation. For the power-ups, they would be explained at their unlock by a panel (designed by our artists) to introduce each effect with a nice pictured situation.

Day 3 was all about making the elements come together. I was at my dayjob work for the whole morning, and came back at noon to finish the game with the rest of the team. The power-ups were almost there, so I only had to play the game over and over again, and then tweak datas to make sure it won’t break the game balance, and then play again… Louis was working on implementing a lot of details, and the rest of the team was working on polishing (there’s an animated rabbit hidden somewhere in the game…try to find it!) and refining the mood of the game. They were also playtesting my tweaks a lot, which definitely helped to get what we consider as a good balanced game (thanks again Louis for the last minute feedbacks that certainly saved the game :D).

It was about my 5th LD, and same for Louis, but we often made hard-to-complete games. It was a strong will of all the team to get a build achievable, and even more, enjoyable. We think (and hope) that we managed to accomplish this goal, in a way!

So what went wrong?

Since we don’t have any result yet, I can only make suppositions. On a production-side, I think that the word that could describe our week-end is « smooth », from beginning to almost end.

As always, and for everyone I think, the last hours are ALWAYS the « oh damn we forgot something » moment. We made no exception. In the last hour before release, we found a big, BIG issue. We had a low framerate on some laptops. But that wasn’t a big deal. Louis fixed it pretty easily. What was being THAT, was the real issue. The spread system was framerate-related.  As we all tested the builds in a low framerate condition, the difficulty curve was balanced on the 30FPS max spawn rythm. When we went to 60, the game had become the most easy build we had played for the whole weekend. For a « the more you have, the worse it is » theme, it was absolutely wrong to end with something too easy to accomplish. So we tweaked again the difficulty curve, and spread timings, until the last minute before release. We finally got something we are proud of, but man, was that stressful!

After taking some days of rest, I think that I’m now able to tell what could have been done better on this project :

  • The game is again not playable on Web (Windows only). And it’s still a thing that Web-playable games will get more exposure as you don’t have to install them on your PC.
  • Never base your experience on a constant-framerate ideal when you work for PC builds.
  • Working to find a real USP that would help the game to stand out of the thousands of entries

Aaaaaaand…that’s all for this Post-Mortem! Actually, we have feedbacks  from awesome peoples on Our Ludum Dare page, so I invite you to go and read them :)
Anyway, we’re always waiting for more and more feedbacks, so don’t hesitate to give the game a try, we hope you’ll like it!

Cheers :)

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