So, I finished my first Alakajam with my game "The Underground Hollow" and here's my post mortem!
What Went Well (No particular order)
Gamemaker: I haven't worked on a game in Gamemaker since April 2020 when I did Ludum Dare 46 and I got back into the groove of game devlopment really fast! I obviously was constantly checking the Gamemaker Manual to remember exact functions and what they did (especially about cameras, I suck at remembering all those functions) but overall I basically picked up right where I left off.
Organization: I wrote out a whole script for my game and broke it up into 6 big sections,
Scope: This is something I heavily struggle with during game jams. I always set my scope way too big and then I end up having to scrap most of it anyway. But this game jam, everytime I thought of an idea I would write it down on a notepad and then later when I needed a break from coding or doing art or just needed to get up from my chair I would look at those ideas I wrote down and think about if the game really needed them. 95% of those ideas didn't make it into the game and I'm glad they didn't because they would've been things that would have distracted from the core gameplay or would have been too much of a time sink to add.
Art: Art is one of the things that I usually have a very big scope problem with. I could spend all 48 hours of the jam working on just art and perfecting it. I think of new little things I can add to the game to make it look "that" much better. But this time around I did a pretty good job of reeling in the scope of my art. The player was just a black square until the last hours of the jam! I probably spent the least amount of time on the tileset but it worked super well. All of the environment is the same pattern with just different colors and then the ground and stalagtites and stalagmites and just edited version of that same rock drawing. I spent the most art time on just drawing the Troll because it was so much fun. I also spent a lot of time on the player animation trying to get the movement to feel right, but overall I think art went really well.
Music: I recently got an audio interface so I can connect my guitar and bass to my computer and record straight from it so I don't have to set up a microphone or anything complicated to record music. This was really fun to just mess around on guitar for a little bit to come up with the menu theme and the gameplay theme. I recorded straight to bandlab which is a website music maker and it's super cool. It was super easy to record my guitar and use my midi keyboard with. And then the built in drum pattern maker thing was easy to use to add drums. Music is usually my biggest struggle during game jam's besides scope because I can never think of anything and so I usually enter my game as a team and have my friend help me with music. But this time it just flowed so easily. I wrote all of the music for the game in just under 2 hours. The music isn't anything to write home about but I think the short loops turned out pretty good.
Sound Effects & Narration: I have never done narration in a game before and so that was interesting writing a script for a game. I recorded most of the lines very early in the moring so most of them are kind of whispered but I think it ended up fitting the vibe of the game very well. I used Adobe Audition for recording audio and adding certain effects to lines like pitch and echo(You'll have to play to find out why I used those effects) Audition was probably wayy over kill for what I was using it for, but I have it free from college and I know it well from taking a class about movie audio. I've used Audacity in the past for game jams and you can do everything I did in Audition just as well with that free program.
I didn't want to use an 8bit sound effect maker like sfxr or ChipTone because I didn't think it would fit very well with the music style I went for and the narration so I made all of the sound effects with my mouth with some exceptions. The inventory open and close sound I used ChipTone because there was a specific sound I was imagining for it, and the troll step I banged on my table and stopped on the ground. Most sound effects I would make about 10 different sounds with my mouth and then layer my favorite 3 or 4 together and then mix them together with some effects in Audition.
Idea: I'm really proud of the idea I came up with. At first I was looking at synonyms for cave to see if I could come up with a more original idea than just top down movement but I couldn't think of anything. I've been listening to the audiobooks of the Harry Potter series and so that's where the idea of mythical creatures came from.
What Could've Been Better (No particular order)
Idea: The game jam started at 1pm my local time and I struggled to come up with an idea the whole first day. I didn't think of a solid idea I liked until I was falling asleep that night around midnight. I kept waking up and writing down ideas and even drew a picture of what I wanted the first cutscene to look like.
Time and Health: I started way too late on my game. Basically wasted the first whole day because I couldn't think of an idea and then slept in super late. When I started working on the game around 12pm the second day of the jam I only had a rough idea, a concept drawing, and 25 hours to go. I worked basically all day from 12pm to 6am and I was in a really good groove picking up Gamemaker again and listening to music all day. I basically only got up to go eat lunch and dinner and then rest room breaks. I also walked around my house maybe 2 or 3 times. I didn't really drink enough water and I was super thirsty by the end of the day. After I finally went to bed around 6am I set an alarm for 10am and got up right when it went off. Ate a light breakfast and started grinding out the last couple hours with bug fixes, finishing up the sound effects, and drawing and animating the player.
More quality of life: I wish I had added more quality of life things just to make the game clearer to the player. Better narration timing and different helpful tips to the player. I also wish I had more time to play test it to get the difficulty right.
More game jams!: I really want to enter into a lot more game jams! It so statifsying to just finish a game even if it isn't perfect. Also it's a very good way to learn new things!
Focus on new skills: I want to branch out the types of games I make during game jams more. I think each game jam I want to focus on a specific skill. It will depend on the theme but I want to try making a video game like a card game, maybe a point and click game.
Scope Scope Scope: In coming game jams I just need to keep bringing my scope smaller and smaller. I need to plan on doing less than I think I'll be able to complete so I have time for bug fixes and polishing. Maybe I'll finish so early that I can add new features that weren't orignally planned!
Participate in Communities: I want to give back to the communities I work with. I want to write more post mortems and rate more people's games. Usually I'll make my game and then just rate 5 or 6 games. I want to try to spend more time after the jam rating and playing way more people's hard worked on entries. Speaking of which, I'm off to go do that right now!
Wow, you went the whole hog with this. Interesting reading — I like post-mortems that go into the nitty-gritty details. And I hear you about Scope, the ever-present bugbear of game jams everywhere. Writing your ideas down and then reviewing them later — this is a very good idea. I can see how it can give you perspective.
This also is interesting: "95% of those ideas didn't make it into the game and I'm glad they didn't." Part of the creative process is resisting the urge to get carried away. It's as if our imaginations tempt us into going down the wrong paths. Even outside of game jams, too many ideas can ruin a project. More than once I gave up because I was too bloody ambitious.
Anyway, thank you for sharing your thoughts. Good luck with the jam.