Thursday, 24 April 2014

Montreal Game Jam 2014: Bad Mood Rising

I didn’t blog about this at the time, but felt like I should go back and document my 2014 global game jam experience, having participated two years in a row (and get it out of the way before the second Ubisoft Montreal Game Jam begins tomorrow).

The Team

Aidan Green (Design and audio)
Anshul Goyal (Programming)
Sean Noonan (Art and additional design)

The Theme

We don't see things as they are,
we see them as we are.

The Jam

The theme really threw us at first, and we struggled with a couple of weak ideas in our initial brainstorm session. However, it wasn’t long before Aidan piped up with a more personal take on the theme, the gist being…

When someone becomes angry things that would otherwise seem perfectly harmless can be perceived as hostile, and they can lash out at things and people around them.

Once we decided this was to be our take on the theme, we quickly hit the ground running – this would be our third organised game jam together, so we had a good idea where our strengths were; Anshul got his head stuck into the code, Aiden wrote up the design and I worked on a visual style/form proposal.
With our team smaller than last year, we attempted to keep the scope super tight by limiting the number of player actions and the amount of planned content. In retrospect I was probably a little too confident in my ability to nail the style early and use all the time remaining just churning out content – this didn’t exactly go to plan…

The Postmortem

What went wrong

1. Art was a bottleneck

At last year’s game jam we went too far pushing “form follows function”. We did this to the point that we lacked the visual charm that was needed to attract people to play the game/keep playing. I really, really wanted to redeem that this time around, but we didn’t anticipate how much of a bottleneck I would become when it came to asset creation. I took a long time up front planning how the game would look as well as choosing a colour palette, spending my time getting inspirations from some of Dali’s abstract works, but in the end I didn’t have the confidence to deliver anything with that level of creativity in the time we had.
I ended up settling on a muted crate paper look/feel that drew a small amount of inspiration from that initial research.
While I was quick to provide placeholders for environment assets, I was slow on the character and animation front, and I feel this held the game back from my next point…

2. The game was playable late

Just like last year, the game wasn’t playable until the final hours, so we had very little time to playtest. I feel we just lucked out that we had something playable and reasonably fun at all. That said, had we playtested I feel we would have just reduced the amount of time the player was “aggro’d” for and probably reworked some of the enemy paths… basically that would have just been tuning, which to be fair, is a nice situation to be in.
With this being the second year in a row that this point was an issue though, I am going to do everything in my power to get future games playable earlier.

3. My hardware wasn’t suitable

This was a personal issue for me, but developing art on a Microsoft Surface Pro for extended periods is extremely uncomfortable. There’s the small (and low down) screen, reduced keyboard and a not so optimal mouse. This really slowed my progress down and didn’t help with my temperament when dealing with sleep deprivation and general development frustrations. This meant that the majority of my best work was done at home before bed and in the morning before I left to return to the jam location – not an ideal situation.
Next time I will be sure to either use my MacBook or perhaps use the Surface again, but with a USB keyboard and mouse as well as HDMI out to a monitor.

What went right

1. We achieved a (relatively) polished game

Early on we decided to focus on quality over quantity, but kept our plans relatively generous with a lot of “nice to have’s”. When we discovered that art was becoming a slight bottleneck and the game still wasn’t playable, we cut our level content to a quarter of our original plan – something short and sweet was preferable to something long and broken.

Bad Mood Rising Team
It paid off, we had nothing but positive feedback from people at the jam and online as well as the game’s GameJolt page. We even won a judge’s choice award at the end of the jam!

2. We had a full team contribution

It felt like everyone made a really solid contribution to the project, and there was a really good feeling that we’d achieved something by the end. Aidan even put together a bunch of music – something which wasn’t initially planned.
I have referenced the project several times since and it will likely influence how things go ahead at the Ubisoft Game Jam tomorrow.

3. We used social media

Whenever there was a moment of down time I took to Twitter, Facebook and GameJolt (my indie game portal of choice) to talk through development and show work in progress shots. Said media was getting hundreds of views within minutes of being uploaded - it was a real confidence boost and gave us a much needed second wind before the end. Upon release, the game quickly amassed 500 unique plays on GameJolt, which was nice to see.

Never neglect social media…

The Game

"Bad Mood Rising"

Play it here!

Bad Mood Rising was an experimental game for us. It’s a game about how different the world feels when you are angry. We represented this by having the player attempt to make their way through a dangerous environment whilst avoiding obstacles. Said obstacles would take the form of enemies or hazards and would act as the instigators of the player’s anger. If the player collides with an obstacle their rage becomes unbearable and the creatures in the environment would turn hostile. The player would have the chance to defend themselves against the onslaught of incoming hostiles for the duration of their anger, which depleted over time as they calmed down. Only while calm can the player progress through the game.

Bad Mood Rising Title
You can play it in your browser or grab a download over at the link below…

Here are a couple of screenshots of the game too…

Wish us luck for the Ubisoft Game Jam tomorrow!