At last, time to reflect on WoA IV.
2 weeks have gone by since completion of the project, and I was on Holidays.
For the most part, I didn't give much thought to WoA except on a few occasions where I browsed gamedev wondering where voting was at.
This morning, I received a note from Slicer which indicated the results were in.
I've awaited the judges' notes before doing some serious introspection on the project. I feel that, in many ways, it is the one moment in the Week of Awesome that has the most meaning to me.
To have independent interested parties judging your work according to criterias could be daunting, but I trust the judgment of my peers, and I've been a judge during WoA2, so I feel this is feedback that should be embraced. Besides, it has 'no real life repercussions' and I can choose to ignore feedback I would feel is misplaced (which isn't really the case to be fair). So I've been looking forward to this moment and feel I can now dissect the feedback I've been handed in comparison to my own notes and aspire to become better at my craft (isn't it the reason why we're doing this in the first place?).
What did I think?
In my epilogue, I've mentioned that, after I decided to ultimately join solo (by lack of a volunteer to partner with me), I had not expected to do any better than WoA2, but originally, long before I wasn't sure whether the stars would align for me to participate, I had intended to make top 3 this year (as early as 11 months ago, believe it or not). Now timing turned out to be a bit of a misshap and I did join quite in extremis, but it is important to note that I'm considering my efforts, results and the outcome through that lens.
I noted that I was satisfied with my coding method and the general featureset I finally decided and executed on. I was also, for the most part, satisfied with the track I rushed in record time through my basement-studio which wasn't ready for this kind of undertaking.
I did note that I handled sound feedback pretty much as I went, covering any 'event' with a sound I'd quickly make/export with JFXR and that there was no overarching plan to sound design. I also went too art-heavy for a one-man-team and quickly had to serialize the work I do, and cut back on any animation and go with quick alternatives instead.
There was also a question of design clutter, and I assume this comes with any complex idea trying to fit a week's worth of time. I applaud every competitor that stuck to a simple core ideas and just implemented more content along the way.
Ultimately everything else is comments I made regarding polish I would've liked to have done, but that wouldn't mean I didn't make a decent project, just that I didn't quite finish it. Given this is a race, this is acceptable, though unmistakably, some people have had concepts more tailored to the competition's format, and I have but the most respect for anyone with a good eye for scope and the ability to polish their gem (and score a few more points than me!).
With one day essentially lost down the drain due to quite unforeseeable circumstances (tornado/storm/power outage/trees blocking the street/water flooding the entire area), and the fact I went in solo, I'm not dissatisfied with the outcome pointswise, but this year's event had some fierce competition (2 of the top 3 games I couldn't play as they wouldn't run natively on my machine, so it's hard to tell, but 2nd position I felt was going to be the grand winner).
I did underline the fear I had that I wasn't particularly creative this year around. On WoA2, I came up with a theme-centric and consistent experience which turned out to be a racing game with a story (which is practically unheard of) and I felt some satisfaction from the concept alone.
Not this year.
There wasn't anything quite original about my game, it felt like mixing and matching elements together from different genres and making the best out of it.To an extent, it worked, but it didn't feel quite as organic or clever.
With that said, let's have a look at what the judges have said:
A very fun tower defense(sorta) game, it's a bit hard at first to build up your towers since the waves seem to have no time between attacks, so you are left a little bit hoping that things are laid out somewhat the way you want. The onslaught of skeletons start to get pretty real after awhile, and even with 7 or 8 maxed out defense blocks i quickly got overran. Theme is pretty solid with undead and ruins, although ruins is a tad bit of a stretch with the graphics. graphically it's pretty simple, it works, but nothing extremly impressive or anything. the controls could have had some type of ui element as well, even though i was told in the beginning what buttons do what, i kept mixing up 2 and 3 at first thinking 3 was the unearth ruins button. I do enjoy the openness of level design, and wished i had a bit of breathing room to actual design defenses, as it stands it's mostly a mad rush to get things going before being overwhelmed. as well the speed at which prometheus walks is a bit slow, and if your defense has alot of objects getting around can be difficult to repair the breaking items. This was a pretty great game though, i liked it, and think it has some more potential there.[/quote]
Gameplay appears decent. I believe, from previous attempts, this tends to be where I score higher, and I don't believe it is the case here. I knew coming in that Tower Defense games weren't for everyone, and I myself don't particularly enjoy the genre unless it is executed flawlessly and has some clever metagame at work (one of the Gemcraft series did it brilliantly, but that's extremely rare).
I was honestly expecting to score higher here, but I knew it was risky business, and it is quite true I built the game primarily around the evolution mechanic to score on theme and did not focus on some of the 'core game mechanics' such as pushing blocks around (don't get me wrong, it does serve the player's interests tremendously at the tactical level, but I believe most players didn't quite get that and they were not nudged in that direction by the game).
Graphics is where it hurts the most. I'm not artist, and what I can come up with tries to be consistent, but comes across as abstract. Some people are ok with it, some people hate it. Though I wasn't judged harshly here, I didn't make it to a higher position primarily because of the art, and I can pinpoint almost exactly why: none of the monsters are animated, and a lot of feedback is missing. Most of my designs are ok but don't feel like they hold together (you can't say you're looking at temple ruins unless you read the intro text). It hurts, but I was expecting it. Given I wanted a partner for this area exclusively, I feel having an helping hand could help me buy 2 points here or more the next time around.
Theme came out strong. I originally didn't give it much thought, but after delivery, I started thinking my theme wasn't as strong as I thought it was (particularly when playing other games). Yet, it feels like I wasn't judged too harshly here, so hey! Still, I feel like I need to design topdown and make more theme-centric experiences.
Audio - Entirely unexpected to be fair. I imagine I got most of my points here from composing an original track, and can't possibly fathom why I'd have it easy on the SFX, but I'll take it :)
FTUE - I was hoping this would be higher. I use a framework that's independent from most third party utils for users, and went ahead and built an in-game tutorial. I thought to myself that had to do it, but during production, I realized most of the game may fall apart if players don't understand their options,and chose to quickly put together a strategy guide of sorts for that offscreen monitor. Note sure where I've lost my points, if perhaps that this guide should've been in-game? Or that keys (1,2,3) are only referenced in the tutorial and never again (no quick menu to remind controls, etc.)
Participation - Let's be honest, I wasn't as participative this year as the last two, so I feel that it was a generous 10 here, particularly coming from Slicer as his ratings become the default for any judge that does not want to tally and measure the user's participation. That gave me 3 easy 10s overall, so it can't be dismissed.
Judges - This one's really subjective. 4/5 is fairly good, but I'd love to know how one can consistently get that final point (I don't think there's any answer to that, so best not delve on this and just try to wow!)
The first piece of feedback from Slicer relates to the game basically having no 'build-up' phase and I agree. Had I focused more on the idea of building one's defenses and especially moving the ruins around, I would've been able to quickly implement some kind of countdown to let the player know how much time they have to settle in. It would've felt less like the player was being swarmed and needed to react.
In WoA3, I did good on that front I believe by having my first enemy wave immobile and use it as a tutorial to get the player to understand what it is they need to do. With more time and a sturdier event system in place, I could've re-purposed by first wave here (one skeleton enemy) as a test (and pause further waves until it was dead).
Having a very short (and decreasing) pause between waves was to create a sense of overwhelming forces, but it also came at the cost of not allowing the place to reconfigure his forces efficiently between waves. I think it helped on the Gameplay side of the game by keeping the game action-based rather than a conventional tower-defense, but it DID play against some of the core mechanics (why have the ability to move blocks at all then?)
The game is indeed difficult. I did test 3 different play strategies throughout development, and I know the game can be beaten following three different doctrines, but as I've had very limited playtesters, I had not anticipated the game to be so effin hard. It seems like a constant in my games though (WoA2 required a walkthrough video to prove it was doable, and WoA3 was also complex, but Slicer did beat it at some point, most likely after much cursing!). I'm not sure this is a bad thing. I'm not about candy-shaped games that are just there to be beaten. I play competitively, so I feel it only natural that the games I make at aimed at this audience. You can't pick your judges, so it may not appeal to everyone :)
No surprise on the art front.
Controls reminder. Yes indeed, I need to work this into games more often: controls reminder. Quite ironically, 2 weeks before making this entry, I was working on a project and implementing a discreet semi-transparent control overlay that would appear when the user was idle. For some reason, it did not occur to me that a gamejam game would most likely need that, especially given the unlikely use of the 1,2,3 keys.
So level design felt open. True. That being said, the spawns where generated around the screen's center, almost expecting enemies from all sides.When I ultimately decided to have only enemies at the top (for timing reasons), I should've re-centered the spawns to a lower point on the map. That would've given players more notice to the enemy's progress and more room to build with.
Regarding Prometheus speed, I tend to disagree, but it's my fault my point wasn't conveyed properly. I didn't want this game to be about Prometheus fighting at the forefront, Ys-style, handling it like a boss. Prometheus is extremely strong, yes, but he's heavy and slow. That's precisely the reason why he can't take the fight on his own. I wanted to make a game where a player HAD to interface with the evolution mechanic, and that's actually how I came up with the idea of Prometheus. He wasn't a fighter in mythology, he's more of a tinkerer despite his stature and sheer strength. He could kill a man very easily, but an army? No, he'd rather teach humans how to make fire because it has more repercussions in the long run. Rebuilding Zeus' temple felt integral to this idea. He was given the chance to rebuild something that was broken to channel much stronger strength than his own, and that pits the average action player (used to do it on his own) against the strategic tower defense player (used to delegate) in what I feel is a good balanced experience. I didn't have any means of measuring it, but I felt that the low movement speed was instrumental in keeping a close to 1:1 ratio between tending the ruins and fighting the mobs/collecting the resources. It may feel off, but it was instrumental to the idea.
Was there any way to achieve the same results without impacting the controls too much? I don't know. It is true that I've sacrificed one of the 3 Cs a bit as a result of that decision, so it's worth thinking about further.
It took me a few tries to sort of warm up to the strategy involved here, but when I did I had a good time trying to hold off as long as possible. Is it possible to beat? I always lost eventually. It was easy to overlook the evolution mechanics at first but they seem very critical to actually doing well; evolving a few ruins early, as well as the temple itself, really helped my longevity, so I think the theme was well-handled. I'm not sure I ever found the mechanic of moving the ruins useful, it always seemed way too slow. Occasionally it would get me stuck, sandwiched between some ruins and the oncoming skeleton horde. The audio was decent, the music track is upbeat and engaging but some of the sounds could get repetative after a while. The controls were, with the exception of occasionally getting stuck in things, responsive and well-handled. I think the game could have benefited from a more gradual introduction to the mechanics of both the upgrades and the monster types, or a bit of quick-reference UI rather than presenting it all up-front.[/quote]
Scoring-wise, not many differences except for a much stronger graphics score (it doesn't work equally to everyone's taste obviously), a much weaker audio, and a slightly higher FTUE and the full 5 pts for judges scoring!
I liked that Josh described the chronology of his 'coming into' the game. I hadn't realized how subtle the necessity for the evolution mechanic was (or more likely, how strong the urge is to use a fighting character to do the job rather than explore other mechanics). I'm glad he's figured it out, otherwise, I'd be looking at a much lower score, no doubt.
Once again here, the game's difficulty is brought in perspective. WoA3 had an easy out for this, given the player HAD to lose to see the correct ending, but not here. I wonder whether there's anything I should do for this? Aside from lowering the difficulty altogether, is there any way I could make these projects more accessible to less competitive folks, or players that don't intend on playing the game for 5+ hours.
Moving the ruins here again is symptomatic of me putting the focus on other elements. It's hard to measure the cost of option, but I'm inclined to believe the feature deserved more love. Though I'd normally say that if its not necessary, just scrap it, but that would've required some serious re-thinking the original spawn of ruins (most likely, I would've put the temple idol at the bottom, have the temple ruins in front, and then have the mundane ruins at the forefront somehow). Implementing longer pauses between waves, and a faster movement speed on these ruins could've helped a lot.
He saw my audio shortcomings :) The repetitiveness is actually a fluke on my part. Most of the sounds had multiple audio stream I used as part of an array, and randomly used one for each of them, but after a few edits, rollbacks, etc. either the audio was no longer assigned to the list, or the script was not longer returning an appropriate random within that list. Silly, I know, but I totally overlooked that. If the concern was on repetitiveness rather than overall sound design quality, I feel I've been missing a point here for no real reason beyond bad QA...
Here again, I see my aversion for 'tutorials' and my adoration of the 'first-level-tutorial' playing tricks on me. I need to work a lot more on information sequencing as it could've made the experience much better for a lot of people.
Nightcreature did provide a quick comment, but not one that's actionable, and as far as I can tell, we have none from Bacterius.
That leaves me with this assessment for this year's WoA (IV).
What I need to do again
- Decide quickly on an idea and start working (and explore the idea practically rather than theoretically)
- Use Unity (it works great for me and my process) and my usual method of developing
- Focus on gameplay + theme, they need to fit hand-in-hand, otherwise it will feel forced (Prometheus here was key to making the gameplay AND theme work together, the game wouldn't make sense without it).
What I need to learn to do / avoid
- Work on sequencing information and gameplay. No, a wave system doesn't do all the work. Introduce mechanics progressively!
- Find an Art partner. Like... seriously!
- Underscope by at least a day. Just in case something happens *cough*. Plus, its good to dedicate a day to polish, and another to building/QAing the final game (not do the two in the same day).
- Playtests. Find someone nearby or online to give feedback halfway through.
- Wait before implementing sound, and have a strategy in mind.
- Focus on original gameplay pattern, not hybridization
- If I make the art, I need to animate it and keep it under scope
- Add a Controls reminder (on-screen preferably, or at least in a menu modal).
- If you make a game mechanic, be sure you also develop it...
- Game difficulty, how can I keep players from getting frustrated if they're not competitive and I insist on making a hard game?
- Always have audio arrays instead of single sounds when they're expected to play a lot. Consider grouping or removing the sound altogether unless it is critical.
Congrats to the winners, and to everyone that ended up delivering a game.
I had a blast!