Power Surge ~ Ludum Dare 39 (Running out of Power)

Game: Power Surge
Event: Ludum Dare 39
Platforms: Windows (planned to be expanded soon)
Source Available

Last weekend was everyone’s favourite orgy of sleep-deprived video game development. That’s right, Ludum Dare rolled up in town once more and I couldn’t resist taking part. This time round it kinda crept up on me as I wasn’t aware it was happening until a couple of days prior, but luckily I was free to take part.

The theme for this one was “Running out of Power”, which, of course, spawned several games about electrical power. I’m one of the unoriginal people who did the same thing. Introducing, Power Surge!

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The premise for this game is rather simple – the main generator’s output is slowly falling, and it’s your job to operate three different power generation stations to keep those sweet, sweet kilowatts flowing. Those three power generators each constitute a minigame requiring different kinds of mouse control.

Wind Turbine

The first game involves spinning an eco-friendly wind turbine round by rapidly spinning your mouse around it. So far, the feedback on the Ludum Dare website has been praising the graphical style, especially the background scenery. The depth of field effect emphasises the focal element of the scene, i.e. the turbine at the front of the scene – @maybelaterx says it’s “low poly done very well, and the depth-focus made it all the better”.

However, he also says “I would have liked more feedback on wind power generation”, due to the indirect nature of how the turbine reacts to your input, Rather than spin 1:1 with your mouse input, a torque is added proportional to the amount of spinning you do. That means it’s sluggish to start up and resists slowing down. During the competition, I aimed for the latter effect but did not want the former; I was unable to get the mechanic working satisfactorily in time and decided to move on rather than spend too much time on it.

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Coal Power

The next game gets you to tear down walls of coal by clicking them with your imaginary pickaxe. Gameplay-wise, this has been the most popular game so far – @thesand says “I really enjoyed the coal mining, there was something [satisfying] about it” and @loktor remarks “I liked the mining part the most :)”. I’m inclined to agree, since I spent far too long mindlessly clicking through the mine while developing and testing the game. It’s the game I spent the most time on, and I believe it shows in the final product – it’s the mode with the fewest gameplay issues.

I think its enjoyability stems from the same vein as games like Cookie Clicker and almost every RPG ever; there’s something psychologically pleasing to watching a number increase because of your actions. It’s a form of operant conditioning – a Skinner box – which is a widely-used psychological phenomenon used to make games more addictive.

This game also requires refinement, however. @thesand “clicked every single coal until [they were] 100 meters down”. Clearly, I need to mention that you can just click and drag over coal to mine it! Even better, I may make it so you merely have to mouse over a coal piece to mine it to avoid causing players muscle strain, or at least include that as the default option.

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Nuclear Power Station

Personally, I think this is the weakest of the three games. It’s the final one I developed and I think you can tell it had the least time put into it. All you have to do is click the inactive uranium sticks to make them glow again. On the left-hand side of the UI, there are eight bars that show how depleted each stick is. Unfortunately, I also forgot to modify the “tutorial” for this minigame; while the other two games have messages that appear when you are inactive for 5 seconds to nudge you into the correct action, this one has the message for the Wind Turbine minigame copied over by mistake, as you can see in the above screenshot.

This caused some confusion. @thesand “didn’t really understand the nuke power”, mostly due to the incorrect tutorial information, while @maybelaterx deciphered how to play the game but thought it was “by far the easiest”. This minigame, more than the other two, would benefit from a more difficult mechanic. Given it is a nuclear power station, a higher level of difficulty also makes thematic sense. @maybelaterx suggested that I “could make it more challenging by focusing on the precision of the task, maybe disposing and replacing the rod without touching any of the other rods”. I think this is the kind of gameplay I’ll aim for in my post-competition version.

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General feedback

Each of the minigames is a source of shiny gems, which currently act as a points system. Problem is, they don’t do anything apart from sit there on the UI. While the effect is nice – they rotate, with a black border drawing attention to them – they don’t have a practical use, and a few players picked up on this. @wevel “wasn’t quite sure what the gems where for, other than a score system” and @loktor “didn’t really get what the gems were for” either. What I’d like to do is implement a sort of shop for them, so you can buy upgrades for your power generators. I’m not sure what for the upgrades will take yet, but they will likely involve faster energy generation or increased energy caps (each game produces a maximum of 360kW right now).

@milano23 hit the nail on the head though – he “liked the different games” but thought they “became tedious after a while”. I agree. They don’t have much depth (apart from the Coal Mine, it literally has a depth counter) so it’s difficult to invest in each of the minigames. What they really need is a hook – a reason to keep coming back.

This game might work better as a mobile game that you only need to visit for 5 minutes every few hours. It mirrors pretty well how a game like Magikarp Jump works; in that game, I spent a couple of minutes every now and then just hoovering up berries that had spawned and doing my three rounds of training. I’d just need a reason for the player to want to keep their power flowing.

What I’ve learned

Low-poly 3D models have rapidly become my aesthetic of choice, with visually-pleasing results. It’s a style I adopted for my Ludum Dare 37 game, Chemical Chaos, and continued for my last game, Aerochrome. While it was mostly a necessity for LD37 since I wanted to try 3D and didn’t have the time to make high-poly assets, it was a conscious choice for this game jam. I think it’s a style I’ll try to develop in my next few games, too.

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I’ve also learned that focusing on a small number of simple games tends to lead to better results in game jams than focusing on a single large idea or more complex minigames. Chemical Chaos also had three different minigames, but they tended to be too complex, especially Flame Test. If I’m to do a similar compilation of smaller games, they each need to have simple and obvious control schemes and rules with immediate and tangible feedback – that’s why Wind Turbine and Nuclear Power Station were harder to understand than Coal Mine.

I think this game has a solid foundation and most of the work to be done is refining the gameplay and expanding the feature set – adding a shop, for example. Apart from that, most of my effort for the post-competition version will be adding detail to the environments.

If you took part in Ludum Dare, do give my game a go and leave some feedback when voting – I’ll try to get around to playing as many games as I can too. If you didn’t take part in Ludum Dare this time around, feedback would be appreciated anyway, even if you can’t vote!

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Chemical Chaos ~ Ludum Dare 37 (One Room)

It’s been over a week since the last Ludum Dare competition ended. This time round, the theme was ‘One Room’, so naturally I made a game about a bunch of chemistry experiments that you have to run around and keep going. This decision was somewhat motivated by the fact that everyone I’ve ever talked to loved chemistry at school and would do anything to do a titration again. After all, knowing your market is half of the battle in game development.

The idea I was going for was a game where the player would be constantly running around, getting one experiment in working order, to find that another couple are starting to fail. It’d ideally be a very hectic game made up of several really easy minigames. For maximum effect, I’d need to create quite a few different experiments; however, I only had enough time to make three to a decent level of completion. I’d also have liked more time to polish some of the game’s aspects, mainly some smaller details like particle effects and other signposting to make it easier to see the status of experiments from afar.

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Don’t ask why it turns from blue to red.

The first experiment was a distillation – in real life, you do this experiment to separate some liquid from a solution (you probably used it to purify water in school). The controls are simple – just mash the mouse buttons or controller shoulder buttons to turn down the temperature, as shown by the thermometer. When this experiment fails – when the thermometer is full – there’s a large explosion for no apparent reason.

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The most important part of development – particle effects.

There’s a couple things I’d like to improve about this minigame. First of all, the apparatus should probably start to smoke and rattle around a bit as it’s getting close to exploding. And on the subject of explosions, I think the explosion needs to have more impact – sure, all the equipment goes flying and there’s a bit of fire, but I might add more flames that stay alight for a while on the table, and possibly violent screenshake when the explosion actually happens. On the plus side, I was very happy with the ‘reaction cam’ that pops up in the corner when an experiment fails.

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John is the best video game character this year.

The second experiment was the good old sodium-in-water one, which as we all know, causes fire. The gameplay for this one involves pressing left click/LB to decrease the amount of sodium and potassium that materialises above John, the water tank, and right click/RB to spawn more. If he gets too little metal, he’ll get bored and will fall to sleep and if he gets too much, he’ll get scared then eventually die. Please try not to kill John.

There are a couple of problems in this screenshot – first of all, the sodium blocks sort of clip through the bottom of John instead of bursting into flames on the surface of the water, something I didn’t catch happening before submission. I’m also confused what may have caused it as I touched none of the relevant code for this between getting the feature working and submission. Secondly, the instructions for this experiment are incorrect, as I seem to have put up the instructions for experiment 1 instead; this was probably just an oversight. They’re both easy-to-fix problems, but they could have easily been avoided.

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I’ve left my mixtape in all three of these Bunsen burners.

The third and final experiment is the Flame Test, which tasks you with carrying different elements into three flames. Each flame expects the element that makes it burn in a particular colour, as dictated by the chart next to the Bunsen burners and the base of each burner. All other elements go in the bin; if you’re too slow trashing elements, you’ll fail the game, and if you put the incorrect element in a flame, that flame will go out and losing all flames results in failure too.

In hindsight, I should have made the Bunsen burners explode when you get things wrong. It’s basically the only thing wrong with this minigame.

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For the flame test minigame, I invented new elements so I could make more interesting flame colours. There’s a line of posters along the wall with short descriptions of them all. Given how long it took me to think up the new element types and make posters and models for each of them, I would have liked to make more games that utilise them all, but unfortunately I didn’t have enough time. One game idea I had was a solution-mixing table, which had a bunch of coloured solutions and you had to make the requested colour. However, it’s not really an experiment that’s easy to make hectic and if you’ve ever dealt with transition metal ions yourself, you’d know that this type of colour change chemistry can be a little complex. For the two people that got that tortured chemistry pun, I’ll see myself out.

I was, however, pleased with how the game came out graphically. The only issue I had was trying to make a roof and windows; doing that messed up the lighting, and any amount of time trying to work out Unity’s area lights and baked global illumination seemed to be wasted in the end.

You can give the game a go by visiting the Ludum Dare page, where you can vote if you took part in the competition, or directly on my Google Drive.

The Challenge Plan

The April game challenge starts tomorrow, and I have decided to develop this game as the 3D platformer RPG I have been planing for a while, and I will see how far I can get with it in a month. This is a small change of plan, as I had originally planned to make a completely different game this month, but I decided it’s easier to just develop most of my platformer during April.

The game will be structured in the following way:

-A large hub world (there may be several of them), featuring minigames and other interactive stuff to do. I may not be able to get the minigames all programmed/implemented in time, but they will exist eventually. The hub world will feature some method of accessing levels, for example portals or doorways.

-Different levels accessed through the hub world(s). They will be clustered together. These levels will differ by theme, size and objective, for example there will be forest levels and volcano levels, small and large levels, linear and branched objectives for completing levels. I am aiming for at least 5 fully completed levels for the end of the month.

-Bonus levels accessed through each levels. These will be a fun breakaway from the level, continuing the theme of that level, and the objective here will be to collect everything without dying or before time runs out. Think Crash Bandicoot on the PS1 for this.

-Boss levels that are unlocked by completing each cluster of levels, then you have to defeat the boss in order to progress to the next cluster of levels. Some bosses are easy and some are hard, and obviously as the game progresses, the bosses get harder. This will be a challenge for me, as the AI required for a boss is so much more difficult to implement than a more rudimentary AI used for normal enemies.

As it starts tomorrow, I will be doing some planning of the game stages on paper and drawing up some concept art for the characters or enemies for a few days to begin with. I will also be making some blocky initial versions of some stages, and perhaps the character along with a 3rd person camera following him/her. I will also hopefully be implementing travelling between worlds, which isn’t hard to do.

The general aim of the game is for the main character to collect some kind of collectible. I have yet to decide what this is, but I have narrowed it down to three things (however I may think of more):

-Gems. You’re enticed by shiny things and therefore want to find as many shiny gems as possible.

-Computer chips/components. You’re making a really cool contraption and you need computer chips to finish it. However, you’re fresh out of them and you need to go find more.

-Light. In a world of darkness, you must find the light and return it to the Sun so he can shine brighter and light up the darkness, purging the world of the monsters that roam it.

It’s gonna be a busy month for me indeed, but I hope to get a nice prototype version out at the end of the month. I’ll update regularly and give links to a development version of the game for downloading and testing, so you can see what I’ve done. When I reach significant milestones I will write updates on this blog, so keep reading to see how I’m doing. Thanks for all your support!

-Daniel

April Challenge! Make a game in a month!

Hey guys, I saw a really nice idea on another blog and decided to give it a go (credits for the idea go to this blog: http://benlowden.wordpress.com/2013/03/28/1-week-challenge/ ). What is this idea you ask? Make a game in a week. This seemed like a great challenge to me, although I have a lot to do in terms of work round about now, so I decided to make it a month-long challenge for me to compensate. I will start the challenge at the beginning of April, and I will try to make a working game by the end of the month. Any ideas will be welcomed, and if your idea is used by me in the final product, your name will be featured in the credits. I will try my best to get a working game finished by the end of the month, and I hope you will help and support me in this, especially if you can give me any good ideas on what genre the game should be, what kind of characters should be on it, and what general direction to take the game in.

I will also be properly starting development on my main game project extremely soon, it will be a 3D platformer/RPG blend created using the Unity game engine, featuring a mix of open environments and more enclosed levels, as well as fun minigames and an intuitive battle system. My thoughts are for a Crash Bandicoot-like platformer, but with a rich ecosystem of creatures to battle, with a more RPG-like feel to fighting enemies, and colourful and varied environments to engross the player into the game world. The game will feature one main open hub world to act as a tutorial and a fun area to play around in, then lots of worlds connecting from it, with increasing difficulty as you progress and unlock new levels. You will have to find some sort of collectibles in order to progress to the next level, and fight bosses to reach new worlds. I hope you look forward to playing it, I will periodically update you on its progress, and any ideas are welcome and worthy of mention in the game’s credits. Thanks for reading!

-Daniel