Little House of Horrors is a game that emulates the style of table-top games. The player overcomes monsters, mischief, and madness as they make their way around the randomly-generated house. Cthulhu is coming, and the player only has 12 hours before it reaches us. Each 3 hours that pass in the game clock reveals another portal on the board. If the player closes all these portals with their power over the mysterious 'Essence' then Cthulhu will be kept at bay for another day. But if they don't...
The team came together quite quickly on a working theme/style/aesthetic and everyone worked their asses off in their respected areas. We had a few interesting ideas that I think I would have liked come to actualization more than what we decided on, but looking back I'm very happy we decided on this game/theme.
This game was made for the Ludum Dare Game Jam #38. I had known of LudumDare previously, but for whatever reason I had completely forgotten that 72 hours is not 48 hours; so the extra time came as a bit of a shock. Anyway, I was approached by one of my teammates from the GlobalGameJam 2017, where we made Chi Ting, Dan Acri. Him, along with another person on my team for GGJ2017, Jesse Pascoe came together once again to work on this project.
Along with them, Jesse had a few friends he's worked with before that joined on this project as well: John Ryan, and David Casteel. For roles it broke down in this way. Artist- Alex Thompson, Programmer/Designer- Jesse Pascoe, Programmer/Designer- Dan Acri, Lead Designer/Writer- David Casteel, Programmer/Audio Technician- John Ryan.
I learned something very important from the GlobalGameJam and I might have said it already in the Chi Ting post-mortem. Anyway, that is for these jams, what you want to do if not going crazy-experimental is to focus on your strengths as a team. And I believe we did that very very well for Little House of Horrors.
On the Same Page
When we were first shouting out ideas, they were quite varied. However, when we started to hone in on this Cthulhu-themed world, it just clicked with the whole team.
I really appreciate that because it meant that even though we couldn't really have a GDD or vertical slice of the game, and even though the design/art/sound were all separate disciplines, we were able to blend what we all worked on together quite well.
This also really helped when we were thinking about ways to alter/improve gameplay. It wasn't like people bashing their heads together, but actually bounding ideas back and forth, as they developed into better ones.
Surprisingly, we were also thinking ahead about how many triangles were being displayed and the performance. This helped us in the long run, because we were able to make changes into making the game run without using as much CPU power as originally it did. Probably one of the major reasons we even needed to think about performance is because of me, as well.
A Helping Hand
Now, just about everyone in our group was cross-disciplined and that certainly came in handy. There were a few odd times midway through production where like Jesse didn't have anything to program for awhile(despite having plenty to program later on) and would assist in other areas.
I think at the core of this helping hand mentality is just that we were all passionate about the project and wanted it to succeed. Going from that sort of logic, it's easy to see why if someone is struggling that I would want to give them a hand. For if, say, Jesse didn't and just focused on what he was doing, then we may have not actually finished the game.
I also think because of everyone's previous relationships with one another made it easier to openly offer that sort of help. When you first work on a game with someone else and don't know their speed or if they are a volatile person, etc. this kind of thing is easier dealt with friends or past acquaintances.
What Went Right
Going into this, I think everyone was trying to be courteous of each other's abilities. I also think that some of us had multiple areas we could bounce around in, so that definitely helped. About the only one who couldn't support the team in multiple areas was myself, and I will get to that in a bit.
Jesse and Dan basically had the same roles as they did in Chi Ting. Jesse was the rock or foundation for the programming, and Dan would handle some of it. Jesse always surprises me with how well he understands and can adapt other programs for Unity, he did lots of extra things for 'flair' and I think it paid off.
David focused heavily on the game's narrative and mechanics. While everyone chipped-in coming up with various evolutions of mechanics, it was David that had the last say in things. He wrote the numerous little story blurbs that player will encounter and also provided a great deal of placeholder artwork that actually ended up being the finalized artwork. Funny how that goes for game jams. If push came to shove, David could also program a bit in Unity to help implement whatever he was working on.
John made lots of new audio clips, and also edited ones he previously had, but he is very talented at this. Many of the top comments we got about the game was from the audio, John just nailed the atmosphere perfectly. And he also created all the audio listeners and junk within Unity to handle the events and stuff.
Lastly there's me, and I worked on 2D sprites, 3D models and editing/finding textures for 2D/3D. I did alot, but it was a good thing we decided to take the art direction in the way we did; if I had needed to make dozens of 2D sprites, it would have gone poorly, I think. I felt much more comfortable working with 3D models, and when I did have to make some 2D artwork- the time worked on it was considerably longer than the 3D models.
Maya, Unity, and my Modeling
So, even though I made sure to set objects at the origin in Maya and I made them all based on a 1 meter per unit scale- we had considerable issues with this over and over again.
Honestly, this whole section can just be devoted to my lack of experience as a modeler for game, and using Unity. Maya lets you set the units to meter, centimeters, etc. but Unity's default scale is in meters. There was a lot of code to make areas 1 unit in size to make the programming easier.
However, there were constant problems transferring models from Maya into Unity- even until the very end. The first day, in fact, I struggled for hours(which is precious time spent on 1 aspect/problem) to get models and textures to finally export correctly into Unity. There's lots of odd ways that say to do it online, and it was just kind of a mess.
After that, despite working within scale to make things easier for the programmers, it was anything but. Models from Maya would either be like 1000 times too large, or 1000 times too small. And there didn't seem to be a rhyme or reason to it. In addition, the pivot points of the objects wouldn't be where I set them in Maya or when I freeze their transformations. I have no idea how to fix this, but it really made things extra annoying for Jesse. He even at one point made a short program that automatically scaled the objects from Maya appropriately within Unity, which is good I guess?
As Jam games are relatively small, no one really thinks about optimization for them. But I was really starting to overstep my boundaries with inefficient use of vertices and polygons with my models. In particular we went through a whole ordeal over the bookshelf. The original book shelf with books was something ridiculous like 200 models, and like 40000 triangles, these would all be separately textured, too and with like 3 in a room. Up to 9 or more on the screen at one time. This doesn't seem like much, but it definitely puts into perspective the smart design of AAA studios working on stuff like Dark Souls or Destiny- as i'm pretty sure our game was using more CPU power than those, im not sure though.
Anyway, we managed to chop this down to 200 models, but only like 6 textures. And Jesse went through the tedious process of UV mapping it all so we ended up finally only having a single, simplified model, with like only 500 triangles and a single texture. The game can still chug a bit, but that is because of just the inefficient way I modeled everything else in general. It was a tremendous learning experience for me, though.
Game was WAY out of scope
We definitely kept ourselves busy for the whole 72 hours of the jam. In fact, everyone from the group also made some additions to the game after the submission time; we had already submitted, so it wasn't like cheating or anything. Still, I think, while at a different pace, we probably worked a couple of days on changes or additions alone. So, thinking back, that's like all the time we had to make the whole game in the first place.
The game is largely influenced by Betrayal at the House on the Hill board game, so much so, that I was really just upset that it seemed like plagiarism. The inclusion of health, sanity, the square rooms connecting, the little omen stories and junk- all of it was basically ripped straight from that game, I felt. We did manage to make some changes so that it wasn't a complete copy, though.
But, it was quite obvious gameplay-wise that we were trying to do too much with this game. We had 6 stats: health, strength, wisdom, speed, sanity, and essence. But the initially submitted game only really used essence and sanity, I think. The speed stat was normalized to 1 for every character, so basically it doesn't even need to be there now. The inclusion of monsters actually expanded the need/use for Strength and Wisdom as well as Health. So that was a great addition.
Outside of design and programming, though. I really wanted to make a cool win/lose screen or graphic, as well as a title screen. But I don't know if I was just burnt-out from the rest of the Jam, or I just was stuck in a spiral of self-loathing and couldn't bring myself to draw well. I wasted hours working on a screen, that I ended up scrapping anyway. And in the end, I must apologize to all players, as there's just text for the ending... That one is all on me.
What Went Wrong
I tried to prepare myself for LudumDare after the GlobalGameJam. I don't know if I really succeeded in that regard. I had talked about getting a tablet so I didn't need to draw with the mouse anymore, but I had not gotten around to doing that yet, either. This whole experience has made me really appreciate the artists on my team for Wry Reveries, and I have been trying to draw gestures nightly as well as go through some Maya tutorials. I think a big problem I have is not knowing what I want to draw/model.
So, I want to kind of make a visual journey/diary of sorts to practice and update my skills. Like I'll make a twitter post about one of the games I've played before in my history, along with a drawing to pay tribute, a model as well, and a short true story about my experience.
As far as continuing jamming goes, I would really love to continue with it. Especially with Jesse, Dan, and the rest. I just don't want to feel like a bad artist when that time comes again, as that's what I'll probably be doing.