Now that the results are out, I can talk about what I've played, my feelings and views on entries, and so on. While many games are fairly solid, I think there's very little there that I'd consider is of completely finished quality, and while some teams may no longer be willing to work on their titles, I hope that others may find the feedback useful in guiding further development.
43 entries is too many for a person to play through in a week, especially when that person has a day job. What we did first was to give each judge a subset of the entries, to be checked for basic requirements: meeting the contest rules (particularly the elements), stability, and basic playability, as well as to get some initial ordering of entries. I was given misc4, Slots of Horror 2, Pirate Tycoon, spyingmania, Zirconia 2: Battle, Lumixed 4E4, One in the Chamber, Shadows of the Savage Fist, Kasei, Monstrumo, and Star Robots.
Firstly, contest requirements. Star Robots fell at this stage; sorry guys, but changing the mission 'briefing' to refer to the generic enemies as 'space pirates,' changing the loading screens, and reskinning the gun turret to look vaguely like some kind of robot is not sufficient. If it wasn't for the loading screens I probably wouldn't even have realised that the gun was a robot. The game looks very polished, and I wish you all the best with it.
Lumixed also went at this point. I'm told there was some kind of conflagration in the screenshots thread (which, for reasons of remaining impartial, I was trying to avoid looking at), along the lines of "you can't just create a new skin for it and submit it as an entry." Independent of the discussion in that thread, we talked about it on the judges list, and the conclusion we came to was the same - it's just not enough, especially considering that the design of the finished game was such that the robot/ninja skins would only be two amongst many (so gamers might never even see them). I think the guys who submitted it knew it was a bit cheeky, and they might consider themselves unlucky for getting called on it. It doesn't change the fact that I've spent more time playing this game than any other contest entry now - I must have racked up at least ten hours. I don't know how much of this is the basic Lumines game design, and how much is specific to the Lumixed team's implementation of it, but together they've caused me more time crises than Zirconia 2, something of which they should be extremely proud (Zirconia 2 play time at last check: 6 hours). Oh, and:
Level 7, biyatch.
That was all, from a requirements point of view.
Stability: we weren't chucking out entries that crashed at this point, only the ones that we couldn't even run sufficiently to judge. Happily, none of my games suffered from this; I know that at least one entry got chucked because it had failed to include a DLL (no, stlport is not something you'll usually find is already installed), but it wasn't one of mine. I should note that I really did some nasty things to try getting games to crash - like removing/renaming game assets (not that I expected it to work, just to see how well it coped with the problem). If you ever do a game for a console, this is the kind of thing you will find yourself having to cope with; the quality assurance departments at the respective platform holders do things orders of magnitude more evil than me.
Playability, however... I had to chuck a few at this point. First to go was misc4; sorry Max, but it's just not a game yet. You can only create sessions - not join existing ones - and given that it's multiplayer only, that's kind of critical to being able to play. I'm quite liking the art style though, and the onomatopoeia.
Next, Slots of Horror 2. You tap a button, and wait. After a little while, you can tap the button again, if you want. If you wait again, you could tap the button a third time, though by this point you probably wouldn't want to. It's like Waiting for Godot: The Game. There's just nothing to engage the player, at all - no running count of how much has been won over time to give the player a sense of achievement, no sound of the wheels going click-click-click-click-click to get the tension in as the last one spins to a halt, the winning combination is "any sequence of the same icon jammed up against the left edge"... It's possible that the author is trying to be satirical about the pointlessness of gambling, but I'm afraid that there is no 'social commentary' category in the judging criteria.
Pirate Tycoon. I was really looking forward to this one, but was dismayed to find that the UI seems pretty heavily broken. I managed to build a few buildings on the island, but was unable to train up any mateys and man a ship to fight off the zombie hordes; my clicking on the 'train' button seemed to be interpreted as a click on the button at the main island screen, and while I somehow managed to occasionally bring up the training screen, I apparently requested that the game train up -1 of each type of pirate.
Everything else could be realistically scored - spyingmania, Zirconia 2: Battle, One in the Chamber, Shadows of the Savage Fist, Kasei, and Monstrumo. I set about trying to get them into some kind of order. Here are the notes I took on each one:
spyingmania: Reasonable concept. The art could do with a little improvement to better fit the theme - shurikens instead of orange blobs, for example - but the character animations were ok. Crashes on exit. Very, very hard - can't seem to figure out how to lure the robot far enough forward such that he'll be standing underneath the metal grabber. Minimal frontend. After five minutes, I'm not hooked - just frustrated that throwing my shurikens at the toxic waste barrel doesn't seem to do anything. (Whaddaya mean it needs to be one of the guns? We're both firing orange blobs...)
Zirconia 2: Battle: Love the combination of MTG-style card gaming with classic vertical shooter. Frontend could use a lot more polish - it's quite disorganised at the moment. Also, the artwork looks very much like you grabbed SpriteLib and made up enemies to fit the available art, instead of finding/creating art to fit the design. In some ways that's commendable - art middleware - but it results in a very disjointed style, with pixelated Voozles and photographic Sonic Zombies around at the same time. Also, I find myself hardly using the 'fuel' element of the gameplay - it seems that speed isn't often the thing that I need in a given situation. Story is a WTF. After five minutes, I'm beginning to understand that letting my screen fill with enemies so that I can take them all out in one combo might be more effective than shooting anything that moves, when it moves. (After six hours: this has been tried and found to be true, though unleashing six high-level enemies in sequence does a pretty good job too).
One in the Chamber: OK, gameplay is classic capture-the-flag. Obstacles - fire traps and lasers - are a nice idea, fire trap art needs some work. Very, very floaty - frequently find myself sliding off platforms after jumps and stuff. Minimal frontend (in-game pause menu only). Weapon rearming mechanic is OK but needs more than just one rearm point. Bot AI totally, completely, and unequivocally pwns - after five minutes I've not managed to score a single point.
Shadows of the Savage Fist: The frontend should probably have the game name on it somewhere... Doesn't seem to support alt-tab. Liking the artwork, though the Dark One (Riff Raff, is that you?) is a little bland for an otherworldly god/voice/power/thing. Some amusing fourth-wall-breaking in the opening scene, but be careful not to overdo it. Gameplay wise... one problem with having all your characters as black-suited ninjas is that it becomes difficult to determine which is which. Not sure I like the fact that you need to gather all your people together before you can go into or out of any building - it makes exploring houses and buildings much more costly in terms of time because you have to gather everyone together. Nice job on the zombies. It seems like there's no line-of-sight testing - enemies are sometimes seeing me through buildings. LOL @ "Nameless of the stolen name file." There's a very annoying bug which seems to keep causing my character to become deselected, or to select the last character in the list instead. Sharkbeard is evil and I can't figure out how to beat him at the end [grin]
Kasei: Artwork is very nice, and the animations that are there are nice though there are a few things that don't seem to have them yet. Rendering issues on the terrain are quite surprising, given the amount of available material on terrain techniques and implementations. Heartbeat is a nice idea, but it's difficult to judge where you are in relation to the minimum/maximum, and the rate of the effect seems independent of exertion, which actually damages tension a little - if the heartbeat sped up in a fight, it would add to the tension, but playing it constant is something that almost helps to keep the player calm and unengaged. No frontend. I can only find four enemies, and nothing happens when I've killed them all. After five minutes, I'm probably fighting the red ninjas, though I might have finished that and am just standing around doing nothing. More of a prototype / tech demo than a game.
Monstrumo: This is a game where no story might be better than "collecting life essences in the form of treasure chests," but that's a minor point [smile] Framerate and stability seem fine, but the game design results in something that plays very slowly - unless you use the explosive barrels (which have unclear range + damage radii), you have to get up close to each enemy to kill him (as they don't tend to come to you unless you're quite close), and the endurance mechanic runs contrary to that. Swordfights with the pirates are a little dull - block, attack, block, attack, block, attack. There's an odd issue where enemies will sometimes jump around to other sides of you in a fight. Can't tell if I've finished the game or not, and if not, I can't be bothered to run around the island looking for whoever is left - it's just so slow. After five minutes, I'm probably fighting the zombies at the lake, and yawning.
That's the first round done. Here's the score breakdown:
Entry Name | Score | Stb | UseOfTech | Speed | GameDesign | Art | TechMethods | HookFactor | GameplayQ | Present | Inst | Kudos
Zirconia 2: Battle | 7.542 | 6 | 8 | 6 | 9 | 7 | 5 | 10 | 8 | 8 | 7 | 0
Shadows of the Savage Fist | 6.292 | 8 | 6 | 5 | 7 | 8 | 4 | 8 | 6 | 8 | 3 | 0
Kasei | 5.208 | 8 | 8 | 8 | 4 | 9 | 3 | 4 | 4 | 2 | 5 | 0
Monstrumo | 5.125 | 4 | 6 | 7 | 5 | 6 | 5 | 5 | 4 | 5 | 5 | 0
spyingmania | 4.625 | 3 | 3 | 3 | 7 | 7 | 4 | 4 | 5 | 5 | 5 | 0
One in the Chamber | 4.458 | 7 | 6 | 5 | 4 | 6 | 6 | 3 | 4 | 3 | 3 | 0
I'll get this posted now before getting onto the next entries I judged, to get the feedback out to the teams.