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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!