This month the theme was your raison d' etre, which means your reason for being(I think). Which is a very nique opportunity to look a what truly matters and how you communicate that through interactive experiences. So, this month I came up with the game "Marathon".
In Marathon, you basically play as a nameless, genderless representation of a person as they go through the metaphorical 'road of life'. Even though there are an infinite number of possibilities everyday, I think for our own safety we don't deviate from the norm. Sometimes though, we can feel trapped, literally suffocating from the repetitive monotany of it all and it feels like we have no way out.
Exploring this particular theme allowed me to really dig into why I want to make games, why I exist, and my philosophy on it all. Simply put, I believe as social creatures our real purpose is towards one another. As long as you make a positive impact in someone else's life, then you are giving your life meaning.
I believe my brother committed suicide because he didn't see that he was making a positive impact on my life or others'. And, having been close to the edge myself, I think I may have followed him if not for my philosophy of meaning through affecting others positively.
All of these concepts come together(beautifully, I think) in Marathon. The player can't escape the darkness simply by running away, they must touch others who already have given up, giving them a fighting chance against the beast. And each time someone joins the player in eluding the darkness, the darkness grows weaker until it can no longer harm the player.
I really enjoyed working on this game, but alas I found my own kind of darkness(quite literally) this month and it almost cost me completing(ish) the game. So, without further rambling, let's get into the good and bad of the production. Oddly enough, the bad has little to do with the actual game itself.
What Went Right
Learning from last month, rather than experiment with new concepts within Game Maker I wanted to keep things simple and within the realms of what I know how to do for the most part. Everything coded or used with the built-in functions is rather simple. Playing the game, it probably looks alot more simple than it actually was coding, but I still stand by my case. The background loops and objects have flagged states triggered by alarms to create a sort of 'random' appearance of movement.
Okay, so maybe it actually wasn't that simple, but it was within my wheel house and that's what was important to me. I also wanted to adjust the style of sprites to be simpler, and let's just say I definitely achieved this.
Some of the perks of making the game simple were things like having everything take less time, allotment for more polish of gameplay and aesthetics, and reduced stress from complications arising so I could keep a clear head. Well, having a good plan is wonderful, but not that great if you do nothing with said plan.
Sacrifices, aka Minimum Viable Product
Even when considering how 'simple' the overall design of the game was, I had originally planned so much more to be in it. Essentially trying to shift my time from 'learning a new Game Maker skill' to 'expanding on what I already know.' The end product is just a road, but originally it was a large two-way street with Brooklyn, NY styled apartments lining the sides of the road which is where the people would sit.
Not only would the other people be sitting, but they would also say several messages to alert the player in the form of text bubbles. I also experimented with other obstacles for the player to kind of make the game more 'exciting' I guess. But it really shined when I cut down lots of fluff that may add to the experience, but their exclusion didn't subtract from the game. A less crappy way of saying that is like I could safely cut down on content and keep the vision of the game completely intact. In fact, I felt like since I wanted to make a statement or send a message, trying to make the game more 'gamey' just to be fun isn't what I was going for.
Still, I had spent a good amount of time on some things, only to cut them near the end. But, had I tried to keep certain things in or even add some last-minute features I was considering, the game wouldn't exist at all- so I am grateful for those sacrifices I made.
What Went Wrong
Each month I intent to only work on these game jam games for a week or two, but so far I am still working frantically on the very last day or hour of the month to finish and submit. Last month I worked on Moss for maybe two and a half weeks, while Marathon I don't think I even worked on for two weeks. This month took some self-intervention...
I'm a gamer, I have an addictive personality. But I can be particular about what I care to be addicted to, it's an odd thing, but something I'm very grateful for anyway. I'll never be in an alcoholics anonymous meeting not because I can resist the addictive natures of drinking, but that I don't like it. This means, when something comes along that I truly am addicted to, it takes hold...boy does it.
For me this month, it was my complete and utter infatuation with Dark Souls III(a fantastic game, by the way). It wasn't enough that I was breaking my self-imposed curfews to play extra hours, but when I did stop playing I watched countless Youtube videos of Dark Souls III.
And this fed into my procrastination on Marathon. I worked so hard on the game for the first couple days of the month and just dropped it almost completely until the final week. Some part of me was almost trying to rationalize that I wasted too much time this month and won't be able to finish the game so why try to. Another part of me was trying to find a way to block Youtube on my computer.
Much of the simplifying and cutting of content had to do with my addiction to Youtube, but I believe it will serve as a reminder for myself to never let it get that bad again. You can be told something hundreds of times, but to really internalize a discipline, you sometimes have to make the mistake yourself.
Letting the Darkness take Control
Playtesting is key
I've often heard how important playtesting is, and while I believe this advice, I had no frame of reference that really internalized the idea until now. I did quite a lot of 'testing' the game, but it had only been to see if a certain piece of code was working correctly. It wasn't until I had worked hours on making a half-decent background with apartment buildings and steps that I realized a major flaw in my design. The people that the player rescues were always going to be sitting on the stairs on opposite sides of the area. And this created two negative feedback loops through gameplay.
The first was a negative loop for the game. Since the people can only appear on the far left stairs or far right, the player can just stand near where people will be and it makes the whole thing way too easy. The second is a negative loop for the player. Say players actually were punished for not rescuing a person, then the background would have to loop slower(boring) or the player had to move faster trivializing the gameplay.
The thing is, the stairs and extra parts of the background weren't even present in the final version. So, I feel like it is important to really test what can be tested with solid-colored squares and not wait until something is a full-blown sprite that someone has worked hours on making.
This past month's game has taught me to try and use my time more wisely. I didn't bother really making a more detailed or structured plan for these game jam games, just because they are so simple.
However, from now on I will be breaking tasks down even for these small projects. By doing so, I should be able to be more productive with my time and avoid some of the major setbacks I have hit in the past. It seems that I still underestimate the complexity of a simple game.
In addition, I want to overcome my fear of drawing/illustrating, as it seems to be the first real 'road block' that stops my progress dead in its tracks.