TL;DR: It went pretty okay, and I like writing, apparently…
This was my first Alakajam, and I had a lot of fun in the solo division! My experience with the community here has been really good too, people giving and taking constructive feedback, and just being very invested in making and talking about fantastic games.
I joined this site because I'm kind of losing interest in Ludum Dare's whole thing since the website redesign. It's clunky and poorly organized, and makes it difficult for people to jam and rate games. Even though they're getting closer to where the site used to be, I still feel like there are huge gaps in the website's design, and a group of people that refuse to acknowledge the problems exist at all. This place is awesome, and is already everything I want from a game jam site, so I'll definitely be sticking around for more!
But that's enough about that, on to the game I made…
My goal with this jam was to get C O N T E N T in, and make as much game as possible. As a programmer, I tend to overscope my designs in weekend gamejams, and though the code turns out pretty solid there's very little gameplay to speak of. I was looking into puzzlescript and pico-8, because they limit how much code you can really add, and to be honest I was hoping to try puzzlescript out once because it felt lightweight and content focused. Two hundred seventy-seven rules later, I'd probably change my opinion on that, but there's no doubt it worked out for me in this jam.
I was actually surprised that the theme was Spellcasting after AKJ#1 did Alchemy, it was the choice in the top ten that I never thought would get through. So all lazy brainstorming of the finalists thrown out the window, I tried to figure out a way to make a puzzle game where you picked spells, in a framework that only lets you move a single object called Player around the screen…
What went right:
I finished my logic on day one. Two days is not a lot of time, and I set a goal of having all the mechanics and most of the art done by the time I went to sleep on Saturday. Lots of problems were solved, like nicer tilesets that had depth, and that whole player/finger swapping issue, and three of the four spells were fully coded and arted. I made tweaks to everything in day two, but being able to start making levels as soon as I woke up definitely left time for bugfixes and polish. And sound effects and music.
I made fifteen puzzle levels in 48 hours! Even though my original goal was to have something like 20 levels, people have been able to play my game for over an hour, and that really means something to me. In day two I was making a new level every hour, from figuring out how to use the mechanics I had already implemented in unexpected ways, to laying out a basic plan, to adding enough spells and details, to brute forcing every solution to make sure there were only one or two ways you could solve it. It was a lot of work to do, and some levels suffered minor issues because of this time crunch, but I'm glad that this is where I ended up spending most of the weekend.
I stayed focused and worked all weekend. I started when the timer did, and put a solid fourteen hours in day one. Then I put another twenty in day two. There were times when I wanted to watch some TV, or play a game to relax, but I just kept working through it. That's a first for me in gamejams, and I attribute it to the fact that I saw how far I was getting, and didn't want to lose any momentum.
What went wrong:
Let's address the elephant in the room, the graphics are pretty bad. Puzzlescript limits you to 5x5 pixels per grid space, and I actually spent a good 10 hours of the jam getting things to go from this standard puzzlescript style:
To this slightly more detailed art:
But there wasn't really much I could do beyond that, especially in a weekend. A lot of people on here have convinced me to never work in puzzlescript again, off of this limitation alone.
In a related topic, the font I made for the cutscenes has been particularly singled out as being illegible, which sucks because the whole goal was to make nicer cutscenes with some character instead of centered text on a black screen. I get it, it's not the best, but it really defeats the purpose of cutscenes if people can't even read them…
A few people had trouble figuring out what was going on in the puzzles. This is probably art-related too, but it was a shock to me. If you can't understand what the puzzle is because of the visuals, then I've failed as a designer! I think it boils down to two things: the targets are too big, and obscure important background details, and some objects and effects needed longer animations to be more visible. Possibly a third reason is that people's eyes glossed over when they didn't like the art, so they didn't even bother to try planning out a strategy, but I'll give people the benefit of the doubt here and say that they felt this way because I did not take advantage of the space properly myself.
I pulled an all-nighter up to the submission deadline. Yeah, I know, it was dumb and pointless and just… why? The other side of motivation and momentum is that sometimes you don't know when to stop yourself. Being self-employed and a bit of an insomniac, I already have a pretty loose relationship with sleep schedules, but I would not recommend that you do this, ever!
I'm actually pretty happy with the finished product, and I think it holds its own as a full puzzle game experience. I plan to add better music (a 30 second loop doesn't cut it for an hour-long puzzle game) and fix a few art and font issues in the near future, but otherwise I'm calling this project a success and moving on to the next one.
And speaking of that, the 7 Day Roguelike Challenge starts tomorrow… I might adapt this spellcasting design into a roguelike with enemies, and add another concept where you capture enemy attacks into new attack cards for yourself. Pico-8, don't let me down!