Monday, May 14, 2012

Feedback from Ludum Dare 23

The judging/feedback period for Ludum Dare 23 ended last night.  I had put off any serious effort at rating games until the end, but still managed to get in 93 ratings, many with comments that I hope will be helpful to the developers of those games. The game I made, which I so creatively titled “Tiny Cubic Maze World” did ok relative to the entire 330 games submitted for the jam, but still not terribly great. Here are the scores I got:

#116 Innovation(Jam) 3.00
#129 Fun(Jam) 2.75
#136 Humor(Jam) 2.24
#164 Overall(Jam) 2.79
#180 Graphics(Jam) 2.72
#196 Mood(Jam) 2.29
#201 Audio(Jam)1.36
#226 Theme(Jam) 2.22

Quite frankly, I'm surprised I even got a score for audio, which was lower than my score for theme, which had a lower rank overall. I scored a bit on Humor, probably just from the “YOU ARE WIN!” message displayed at the end when all the yellow dots are collected. Innovation was the highest raw score and the highest ranked score, which is not unexpected, considering that I can't think of any other game where the game world is wrapped around a cube that rotates each side into view as the player moves from one to the next. Apparently some people found that fun, which is awesome.

Of course, these scores definitely indicate that there is a ton of room for improvement in the game.  Here is a condensed and prioritized listing of the feedback on got on the jam entry of the game:

1) Make the maze more complex / harder to navigate / more meaningful

2) Add pac man ghosts (or some kind of AI-controlled enemies or obstacles) to keep it challenging

3) Too short ; make it longer

4) Add additional levels of increasing difficulty / challenge

5) Randomly generate mazes and other obstacles

6) Add timer / some sense of urgency

7) Ending a bit anticlimactic

8) Add some atmospheric music

9) Add sound


Sound would probably be the easiest thing to add. Bfxr is very good at generating arcade-style synth noises and iterating on them very quickly. I may even have a few sound effects laying around my hard drive that would be already useable.

I would love to add random maze generation. I've even spent much of the last three weeks working on a prototype maze generator. The end result wasn't much fun –  the maze it generated was more of the classic get-from-here-to-there type maze than one where you'd collect a bunch of things and avoid enemies. My implementation might have been a bit buggy, as found myself unable to explore the entire open space of the maze, so some parts must have been totally blocked off, which would not have been by design. I did however get the start of a serialized map data format that maps from a 2D array to positions of blocks around the surface of a cube, which may very well prove useful still.

The AI enemies, i.e. pac man ghosts, seem like the big low hanging fruit here. The trick is to make them work across sides of the cubes. Failing that they must at least be able to move around each side of the cube in a manner that challenges the player. There's a great article here that dissects the behavior of the ghosts in pac man that I did start to read earlier at some point, and might re-read a few more times to get some inspiration on how to do this AI. Whether I stick closer to the original pac man model or work in some good ol A-star or something else is still being debated in my head.

Failing entirely randomly generated mazes, staticly designed mazes would still be a very good option to pursue, and would lend themselves especially well to some kind of story or theme wrapped around the whole game. I could stick with the “tiny world” theme, although not necessarily since the Ludum Dare jam is well and over with now, but it's certainly a good option. If I lean more towards classic pac man style gameplay, with increasingly challenging AI each level, then a large number of different levels might not be entirely necessary. That said, it doesn't take a terribly long time to create a given level –  the level in the jam version was created in less than an hour. So, let's say I put in three hours per level, then I could, in theory, do about 8–10 levels in three normal working days, possibly more if I do another crazy LD48–style jam just focusing on making additional levels. Adding one or more themes on top of that would definitely help guide the creation of those levels and also address some of the other comments, too.

Music of some sort would be good. Maybe an ambient/atmospheric style. I might decide to go with some a little faster paced, given the other feedback about adding a sense of urgency.

One thing that might not be entirely obvious from the jam version of the game is that I ultimately would like to release this on mobile devices –  Android and iPhone/iPad to be specific. The controls were intentionally limited to just directional keys for this reason, as I think this maps pretty directly to accelerometer controls. I didn't do an Android version for the LD48 as I felt that would involve some extra porting work that wouldn't really add much value to my entry, although I noticed a few people did make Android games and did get some kudos from people, myself included, just for submitting an Android game. The original idea for this game was to have it played on a phone or tablet device and the player would control a ball rolling around the surface of a cube that had a maze built around it.

So that's pretty much the feedback I got on the game so far. Sorry to end the post a bit anti-climactically, but there you have it. My thinking is that if I can address most or all of these issues with the jam entry, then I'd have something worth releasing.

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