Great jam everyone! I loved the level of discourse and the great feedback. I was impressed by how many great games there were. I'm working on a post-jam version of my game using the feedback received, so I'll post again when I get something I feel good about. Heres a Post Mortem about my game if anyone is interested.
Molecule Mash is a game created in 48 hours for "Alakajam 3" with the theme "Always Growing". The game is about snapping atoms together into a molecule. The game is separated into increasingly difficult levels based on different real-world molecules. Each level is constructed to fit the model by placing the correct atoms around the level, and laying out the geometry to create something unique to that level. The game was created with Unity, with level geometry created using ProBuilder, and a little bit of help from Audacity for audio. Molecular data is pulled from the Protein Data Bank.
Molecule Mash was not the game that I started making at the beginning of the jam. My original concept was a bullet hell game where you were an ever expanding bubble trying to dodge sharp objects. That concept got me through six hours of development time, most of it doing unimportant things like audio before actually figuring out if the concept was good or not. It was not. The expanding bubble size worked counter to the genre and just wasn't enjoyable at all. I had all of these bubble popping sounds, and the start of an original music loop, and six fewer hours. Starting over, I did some brainstorming with some friends, and the concept that I kept coming back to was Katamari. The concept fits the theme exactly, so I went right into making a clone. To my surprise, it took just half an hour to make a prototype of a ball rolling around attaching to anything it touches. I was very happy with it, but was starting to worry about what would my game unique. Throwing together an open plane with differing sized spheres and cubes, I noticed that the shape my Katamari ball was making looked a lot like a ball and stick model from a chemistry class, and with that I had my idea.
After having the concept, I realized that a molecule structure is not something that's sustainable to write by hand which is where the idea to pull from the Protein Data Bank came from. Being based on chemistry brought with it some baggage and additional constraints. First, was the idea of limited connections between each atoms. Second was the concept of a rigid structure to be building. Third was that what you build in a level has to be a real thing. All of these constraints led to searching and researching molecules from the PDB and finding ones that would work well in the game.
Once I got all of the mechanics working, I reached a state that I always aim for, the final 24 hours could be dedicated to content and polish. This has been my goal for the past few jams, and it has worked out great. From pretty much any point after the first 24 hours, I felt comfortable sharing builds for play testing, and shortly after that I got to a point where I wouldn't feel bad about turning in a final version. I've had plenty of jams where I was coding all the way up until the end, and would never be certain if it would work at the end. This process made the jam extremely fun, and removed almost all of the stress that can arise from these sorts of events. On top of that, the tools I created in the first 24 hours made content creation really fun and removed a lot of the tedium.
Speaking of stress, I managed to take care of myself during the whole jam. I didn't skip any meals, I exercised both days when I needed to give my brain a break, and I got a full night of sleep both nights.This is something I learned within my first few jams, and I can't recommend it enough. Every time I pull an all nighter, the game suffers for it.
I spent 1/8th of the time on a boring, unoriginal concept. It should never have gotten that far, and those 6 extra hours could have been spent more productively doing pretty much anything else. I came into the jam with the mindset that I should just get something up and working quickly. My new addendum to that is that the concept is essential. I have done plenty of games without a strong idea, and it never feels as rewarding as making something genuinely different which I feel is an important part of a successful jam project.
The controls, and the frustration surrounding them, became the primary criticism for the game. While developing the game, I saw no problems with them as I basically got used to them. I also discovered after the jam was already over that I wasn't handling input and physics forces correctly causing inconsistency between different hardware. All the balancing to the magnitude of forces and controls and everything was done on my machine. It wasn't a quick fix either, because upon fixing the inconsistency problems post-jam it even felt different on my PC, and all of the levels were designed and tested with the old behaviors in mind. This problem, I believe, was the main issue with the game and the first priority of everything I worked on Post-Jam.
Even without the inconsistency, the controls ended up just not feeling too good for larger and more planar molecules. I didn't do a very good job at establishing a good character controller before making the rest of the game, and by the time I realized it, it was too late. In the future I need to make sure that the actions you perform the most often also feel good, and rocking back and forth to get onto an edge just didn't feel that good.
I made exactly one texture, one set of sound effects, and no custom models. While this isn't exactly a problem, it does irk me a bit. The game does not at all pass the made with Unity test, as it quite obviously uses stock Unity UI, the stock Unity physics, and the stock Unity standard shader. I was never able to get around to modifying those and giving the game a unique look and feel which is a real shame.
Going with a a strong idea is essential. Until switching the idea after the first six hours, I was having a lot more fun and ended with something I am much more proud of. The purpose of the theme and the time restraints, in my opinion, is to allow for interesting and unique games. If you aren't feeling the idea, keep brainstorming!
When going solo especially, get a playable prototype quickly. Figure out what makes your idea good, and focus on those aspects.
The 3rd Alakajam! is over and that means my duties as its host are over.
I wanted to just quickly go over what is required for running a jam, and why you might consider volunteering!
In terms of duties, it's pretty simple, and there is a document with all the steps written down so you can easily prepare for what is needed when. There is an event admin menu on the website itself where you can control which post is pinned, what the current countdown is for, and what the status of the ongoing jam is. It's all rather nicely setup - you don't need to ssh into a box somewhere and run scripts or mess with databases.
The important thing is that Alakajam was set up to be a nice gamedev/gamejam community, with emphasis on that last word. In order to be exactly that, we need to not have a dependency on a single person, and we need to make it easy for other people to get involved. You may not care who makes the site tick as long as it does, but I think it's crucial that we run the site and its jams as a community - which is why I'm writing this post! So if you think it would be fun to spend some of your time running an Alakajam or a Kajam - get involved! Talking to the regulars on #alakajam on irc is a good starting point!
Additionally - if it wasn't already obvious, anyone can get involved with the development of the site itself - just check out the site repo and start committing - there are a bunch of issues that specify missing features and bugs (look for the "good first issue" flag if you're new!).
I'm a bit disappointed with the results for Whirling Blades, but I guess that's what I get for doing something I'm not good at (isometric). xD
The goal was to make a well rounded game while also stepping out of my comfort zone, which I did. I've never done anything isometric before and knew almost nothing about it when I started. I didn't look up anything and did everything by just figuring it out. It was a great learning experience.
Here's the single paper I used for the idea beforehand. I'm definitely not an artist outside of pixel art.
The big mistake that resulted in a lot of these issues was that I was somewhat blinded be the desire to make a fast-paced isometric fighting game. I had some cool ideas in my head, but forgot to think about potential issues in design before getting to work. Normally I spend 60-90 minutes on the game's concept, wheras for this one, I only spent about 10. Next game jam I'll try to dedicate more time to design (>= 3 hours) and less to content since it seems to be the major issue with a lot of my games. I wasted so much time on Lollipop Ninja making levels nobody would play and I wasted a lot of time making items and enemy traits that people would just find a nuisance when making Whirling Blades. On The Crushed Sky (one of my LD games), I also spent way too much time making levels that nobody would play. I even made a boss battle with its own set of tiles that almost nobody ever played.
The boss fight from The Crushed Sky:
I'm slowly figuring out game design and hopefully I'll make something great when I enter the next Ludum Dare!
EDIT: I also need to stop going so low-rez with my artwork. >.>
Congratulations one last time to everyone who entered the 3rd Alakajam! You can discover the best rated games of the jam here:
High fives to everyone who took part in this fun event, whether by submitting games, joining the theme submissions, rating games and most of all giving valuable feedback to others :)
We hope you enjoyed the jam!
Thanks to all the people who made this event possible:
We hope to see you back for more jamming on future events!
Woop woop, I'm doing one of these too.
You can play it at https://alakajam.com/3rd-alakajam/308/infinite-potential/
(Post-mortem also on https://iris-xiii.tumblr.com/post/175512643353/infinite-potential-post-mortem)
Apparently there's a few mac bugs regarding fullscreen. I'm going to be ignoring them from the time being, since I can't test on mac (oops) and that looks hard to fix. Nothing game breaking, thankfully.
Being made during 48 hours, and not being used to such a short time limit myself, it's obviously nothing to drop your jaw at. Still, I think it manages to be fun sometimes, or at least it's definitely fun for a while for some people, which is great enough to me for the time being. Now, time to delve into its issues!
First off, spawning. I don't think only allowing powerups or enemies to spawn when they're off screen was a great idea. While it punishes staying in the same area for too long, it punishes with boredom, which isn't exactly good. Also, while having powerups spawn only when you can't seem them worked out alright on my computer, it gets rather messy with different screen and window sizes. If your screen is just large enough, nothing will spawn, ever. The spawning system was a bit rushed over, but I failed to consider these issues and I will have to be more careful next time I add anything which depends on the size of the window you're playing on.
Weapon balance issues: There's a few, even though it used to be even worse. The sword (2nd wepaon) is widely regarded as useless and too risky to use, and many agree that it needs a longer range or something among these lines. Although its hitbox was increased to be twice as large during development, it was clearly not enough, and dealing only twice as much damage as a fireball does, it's usually not worth the risk. Regarding the fireballs and bombs, I think they're fairly good myself. Some people have complained about the bombs being on a way too large cooldown, and taking too long to go off, but considering they do way more damage than anything else in the game (Unless you've managed to gather a serious amount of powerups) I think it's pretty balanced. Even if it takes 4 bombs to get rid of some creatures, you can usually outrun them by getting one or two powerups: So they're not as dangerous as they might seem, they're just a bag of extra points, or a punishment if you happen not to be careful enough.
Controls: I think I've done way better in this game than in the past, and so far only one person has complained about them. While you can stick to ceilings during a jump and that shouldn't happen, it's the only thing that doesn't feel quite right (to me). Could definitely be improved on, but they're reliable and good enough.
AI: I've gotten all kinds of feedback on this one. It's a hacked together mess, and fairly dumb, I acknowledge it. However given how basic it is, it doesn't work too bad. While the completely random jump allows enemies to get stuck for longer than they should, it also makes it impossible to predict when they'll decide to jump, leading to some situations in which they'll jump at the same time you do while you try to jump over them, and thus end up smacking right into the creature. During those moments it seems much less dumb than it really is. AI is definitely something to improve on, but it turned out just as you'd expect given the amount of time I spent on it (very little).
Map design: Another hacked together mess. If you were to know how the map actually works, you'd puke. Its design itself has a few serious issues: The right half of the map seems more enjoyable, mostly because there's platforms allowing you to move freely, while it's much harder to stay on the move on the left side. There's also a few spots in which you're completely safe, forever, and it might break the flow of the game, along with a couple of 'cheese spots' you can throw bombs off from, and farm for a high score with 0 risk. Balancing is hard, okay?
Powerups: Could definitely be improved on. Some kind of UI showing how many powerups you've picked up so far, and of which kind, would allow the player to keep track of its progress more easily. I admittedly wish I would've had more time to throw in a few powerups more. The damage increasing powerup is particularly bad, in that there's no way for the player to tell the difference most of the time. On the other hand, the jump and speed powerups feel rather great and it's very easy to notice that you've taken them. In regards to the health powerup, I'm feeling lukewarm about it. It's very much necessary, but it feels too weak sometimes.
Creatures: Again, could be improved on. For those of you unaware, there's three: The first one is a spider-like, small creature which deals an also small amount of damage, and is fairly easy to dispose of. However it's capable of jumping, and there's plenty of it. I believe this one is fairly well balanced, even if the AI needs quite a bit of love.
The second creature is tanky in all senses of the word. It's a big triangle, and while it doesn't jump it deals considerably more damage than the previous creature, and has a lot of health. Easy to outrun, there's very few of them, and unless you've managed to gather a lot of power-ups throwing quite a few bombs at it is usually the answer. Final thoughts: The amount of points it drops isn't worth how boring it can be.
The third and last creature is a hand. If any fireballs touch it, they will bounce back towards the player and damage it. They always try to stay at the same height you are to be able to do this better, and until you've collected a few health powerups, they insta-kill on touch. This is definitely a creature the game needed: Fireballs go through everything, except these hands, which make them bounce back and towards the player. It serves to keep the player from mindlessly spamming fireballs too often. Although it's 'weakness' was supposed to be the sword, it's not worth the risk and throwing a couple of bombs on it works just right.
What a ride, I think this covers most points and feedback, phew! There's clearly a lot that could be better, but it's far from awful and at least it can be fun.
There's only one week left to play and rate games! On July 8th at 7pm UTC, the ratings will be counted and the top 3 of the solo and team categories will be crowned!
In order to make as many games as possible receive a rating, games are now displayed in "rescue mode" which means games that need ratings will be displayed at the top!
Help your fellow Alakajam community members out and play and rate some of these games! Constructive feedback is one of the best ways to learn and improve your game design skills, so let's make as many games as possible get some feedback!
A massive thanks to everbody who played and commented on my game!
For my first game jam this has been an amazing experience. I'm so proud I managed to put something together in time, although it could have done with a lot more added in.
I've loved playing everyone's games. Every single one was fun and creative. Can't believe how talented everyone is.
My favourite part was seeing everyone's individual take on the theme.
Well done everyone and thanks for everything!