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Save the Princess Post-Mortem

Posted Jan. 27, 2015, 8:08 p.m.

Global Game Jam was last weekend, and it was amazing! I got to meet so many interesting people, and even helped organize the event in Eugene. We had just under 30 participants, quite a few of whom were right where I was a year ago - had never been to a game jam and didn’t quite know what to expect. I’m super happy to have given back a little and helped people through the process as best I could.

As for the game my team made - it’s sort of an existential platformer. Check it out here! It was super depressing. Here’s a picture of us being depressed!

The theme this year was “What do we do now?” We brainstormed what it could mean, and ended up going with the idea of subverting the goals players typically assume. We copied the basic Mario formula of moving to the right trying to save a princess, but in our game the princess doesn’t need saving. From there, the game becomes a carnival of depressing activities the player can interact with - kicking a can, rummaging through trashcans, or sitting on a park bench while sad piano music plays.

All of these things increase your score so it’s a depress-em-up score attack game, you might say. There’s no real end to the game, but there is a bonus area for the players to discover that may or may not allow them to see the princess again. Just remember that all princesses levitate.

Stuff I’m proud of

I’m always so impressed by the talented artists and audio folk I get to work with. The backgrounds and sprites were adorable, and the music was hilariously upbeat, followed by perfectly depressing.

I’m also super happy that I was able to get input prompts working in the game. This was mostly implemented 2 hours before the game was due for submission, but it got done! People are super familiar with platformers, so that made conveyance much easier. The toughest thing to communicate was that people could interact with trashcans and benches with the secondary action button. I establish that certain things can be picked up through prompts, so interacting with stationary objects with the same buttons wasn’t too much of a stretch.

Rotting corpses were a great touch.

What could have been better

For this jam I spent a lot of time programming the individual interactions with game objects, which didn’t leave much time to hone the platforming. The player sticks to walls, and there’s no “grace period” for jumping once the player runs off a platform. It makes the game feel a little fiddly. Ultimately, I think it was better value to focus on the unique aspects (such as rummaging through trash) than the common platformer problems.

Some of the art assets didn’t make it in either, but this is common for jams. Disappointing, but to be expected.

Reflections

This time last year I had just finished my second game jam ever. In my reflections on the experience I tried to flesh out why I’m interested in games as a medium, and how I should go about making them. Looking back on what I wrote, not much has changed. I’m still more interested in substance than style, still trying to find my voice, and still looking for places to push games as an expressive medium.

Firstly, I want to make games that endure - ones that have interesting systems that players enjoy engaging with. Of the games I’ve played this year, I’ve most appreciated the ones that allow for expansions and add-ons in an elegant way. I’ve become more aware of how games build in scaffoldings that support interesting twists on gameplay, and would like to try my hand at doing the same. The games I’ve made in the past year have been very short, so the systems didn’t really have much time to develop. This year, I want to spend a bit more time on design - making a game with deeper strategy that is still intuitive.

Secondly, I want to round out my development repertoire. I got to try out a lot of different genres in the past year - shooters, platformers, dungeon crawlers, and even a rhythm game. This year I’d like to try my hand at abstract puzzles, stealth, and non-linear narrative.

Lastly, I’d like to find my voice. Part of this is better understanding what kinds of games I like playing and which I like making. The other part is figuring out what real-world experiences I can bring to the table. In a short list, here are some things I’ve experienced:

  • Regret
  • Love
  • Denial
  • Isolation

…And some things that I haven’t:
  • Significant loss
  • Betrayal
  • Child rearing
  • Starvation

I’ll see if I can explore any of these in an interesting way. I’d rather break new ground making something unapproachable than make a popular game that’s ultimately pedestrian.

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