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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Project Spikes – Restarting From Scratch (kinda)

Hello everybody! It’s been a while since the last update, as many school things got in the way (ugh, exams), but I’ve been off for about a month, gathering new ideas for the game. I’ve also sorta started the project again, as many of the ideas in the old version were incomplete and I lost track of which parts were complete or not, so I decided starting afresh and resolving to complete one feature at a time was the way to go. So behold, the new update, which is a step back and a step forward at the same time!

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Because colourful logos are cool.

Re-introduction

While many of you will have played through the old game, I’m going to start off by explaining what the game will be all about. First and foremost, it’s a physics platformer, where the player (that’s you!) needs to use a load of special guns to defy physics and solve puzzles. Right now, all the update has is a crude version of the Force Gun with a placeholder texture and model, but I’ve concentrated on its actual mechanics rather than aesthetics so far, so it feels much more natural to move cubes around using it.

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I told you it’s a crude gun. I wasn’t lying.

What’s changed since last time?

I’m glad you asked, gold star for you! Well, previously all the coding shizzle was done in Javascript (well, Unityscript), but I’ve swapped that for C#, partly as a challenge for myself, an partly to broaden my coding skills. Everything seems to be working well, so the change has been beneficial so far.

So far, the game consists of a start menu and a tutorial level. That’s a heck of a lot less than the previous updates, but this is just a taster of how the levels will feel this time around – they’ll be larger than before, and have more features per level. The tutorial level contains all the features I’ve added so far, so it should give a pretty good idea of the game mechanics you’ll be dealing with in the final product.

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The skies are much bluer than before. So is the whole bloody level!

One new feature is pipes. In the tutorial are a few pipes that you can crawl through -they’re the blue, pipe-like things – to reach other parts of the level. Another new addition is ladders, which don’t have a model yet, but the climbing mechanic is working.

I’ve also added the ability to take screenshots in-game, by pressing the F key. It’ll create a .png image the size of the screen, plus it’ll change the texture of the grey rectangle in the image above into the screenshot. You can find the screenshots on Windows by navigating to the AppData/LocalLow folder, clicking on the ‘danielthenerdyguy’ folder (that’s me!), then the Project Spikes folder, and your images should be there, named after the time the images were taken. On Mac and Linux, I have no idea where they go, but they’ll be in the equivalent place. At points in the game, when you do specific tasks, the game will steal the camera off you and show you around the level like a cutscene, so when you activate something, the camera will move to show you the change in full so that you don’t miss it.

Recap time: the old features

Many of the old features have made it back, with performance and graphical improvements. Physics cubes look much nicer now, as they’re bright red and have a wavy outer edge, with normal maps applied to the edges stand out.

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Normal maps really make the outline stand out, especially when the cube is moving

The same basic texture has been applied to the switch platforms (the ones that switch between solid and non-solid upon jumping), albeit without the ‘Spikes’ logo in the corner. The platforms are blue when active and orange when inactive, because that colour combination definitely won’t land me with a lawsuit.

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My lawyers have told me to say the colour scheme isn’t reminiscent of Portal at all.

Along with switch platforms, moving platforms make a return too, with significant performance and functionality improvements, as I merged several different moving platform scripts into one magnificently efficient script. On my end, they’re much nicer to deal with, although you probably won’t see much of a difference.

The entire GUI has been drawn using the built-in Unity GUI stuff, but I’m holding out for Unity 4.6, which promises a new GUI system, so I decided not to put all that much effort into it at the moment.

Where can I play this update?

There are a few smaller features that aren’t worth going into much (like, super-awesome lens flares from the sun. However in hindsight, that should be the main feature). The update feels a little but raw right now, but once I start replacing placeholder textures and models, it will shape up pretty quickly. You can play the update over at the game’s IndieDB page, and feel free to leave any comments, ideas or problems here or over at IndieDB. If the download isn’t yet available, give it a couple hours or so, because IndieDB have to first approve the download before it’s available. But, when it’s ready, have fun!

-Daniel

Space and Actually Fixed Levels – Project Spikes 01/12/13 Update

I’ve actually fixed stuff this week, and now it’s update time again!

spikes-40The Testing Area level from last update has magically transformed into a space level, complete with loads of particle effects for the thrusters. I’ve made another performance improvement by having differently-sized level geometry and textures. You won’t see any visual change on your end, but it does shift a lot of work from the CPU to the GPU and hence gives a better framerate, at least for me. This level has all the powerups and guns from the old testing level, but is laid out differently and looks better, with a new space skybox and windows, which you can actually smash with the destruction gun or by flinging cubes at them with the force gun.

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I like the texture of these, and the transparentness of them (I’m pretty sure that sentence makes no sense, but that’s why I don’t study English). This level’s gravity is a tiny bit decreased too, so stuff will fall to the ground slower. This level will probably be used in the future to provide access to bonus levels, but currently it’s just there for you to play around with powerups and guns.

spikes-42This is the new-improved-shiny-awesome World 1 Level 5! It’s so much better than the original, but keeps all the basic concepts from the level, such as the switch platforms and radial platforms. It also adds in a small maze part, and some turrets, as well as a high jump powerup. Along with that I’ve improved World 2 Level 1.

spikes-43The new version of this level adds a second floor and is generally better than the original in most ways. I’ve also modified the pause menu so you can access the options straight from there, and when you try to return to the main menu it’ll ask you if you’re sure, just in case you click it by accident. That’s basically it for this update, which you can play here. I hope you have fun playing!

-Daniel

 

 

 

23/05/13 Update- Improving the title screen and health

Alpha 0.1.3b Update

I’ve been working on the title screen even more today, as I’m trying to upgrade the title screen GUI from the built-in Unity GUI stuff to another way of implementing a GUI which incorporates 3D text placed within the game world. Currently, only some of the buttons are present, but I hope to overhaul the entire title GUI to the new system by next update. unity_platformer_29

The player is now on a planet rather than a flat-ish terrain, which looks better. The planet rotates like the ones in the background, too, and the skybox of the title screen is the same, but the camera is positioned differently so the view is of another portion of the skybox. I’ve also been working on the health system, and so far I have added fire, which takes off 3 health. unity_platformer_30This mechanic works well, and I will add more hazards for the next update, each of which will damage the player different amounts. There have been some smaller changes, and to see those, you can watch this video or play the game.

You can download the playable version from here, and you can watch this video straight from my YouTube channel here.

Thanks for reading and watching, have fun playing!

-Daniel