I competed once again in Ludum Dare, and made the game 5 DAYS. The theme is “alone”. Here are some thoughts post-mortem.
What went right
Creating graphical assets is a time-consuming task, so I immediately dropped it and only concentrated on stuff I could efficiently produce. The current style is a nice trade-off between detail and costs.
I started this thing from the ground up on tiles, which allowed me to make changes and updates right till the end. Having everything based on clean tiles also meant I could easily add objects, like the lamps, which effortlessly clamped into the architecture.
I love the intro. This is the closest I have ever come to a cut-scene, and even now it’s pure gameplay, not a video.
The original idea had everyone dying in a scripted explosion, while the player could do nothing (but walk around). Having the player actually kill the reamaining crew (be it by accident, admittedly), would only further compel her to save the cat.
Your only companion is a cubic cat (no time to model, as mentioned above), which is aptly named Boxy. You have to feed for it to survive, but doing so will deplete your own ressources.
The game starts with a cold open right in the action. The title is only seen after the first room, and then perfectly sets up the story.
My original title was ALONE. After the player would have watched his friends die / kill them, she would be ALONE. But because the name would probably be overused, I changed it to 11 DAYS. Eleven turned out to be too long, so I shortened it to 5.
I love how the title 5 DAYS becomes a chapter-card, turning into 4 DAYS, and so on. I contemplated putting the title at the end (Hot Fuzz/The Dark Knight-style), but only few people would see it then. I guess this doesn’t work in games.
The only downside of this title is that I already made a game called 5 Days in Charleroi. I was already trying furiously too get the gameplay to work, so this didn’t even occur to me :-). Oh well.
Instead of composing my own background-music I was forced to try out Wolframtunes, where I found some interesting ambient-tunes. I was able to reverse-engineer those, and created a fitting soundloop in comparatively little time.
Also notice how the sounds picks up after the title, further signalling that the game has “begun”. Nice effect.
What went wrong
This was actually my first idea, but I classified it as “way too ambitious”. I had some others, but none of them impressed me as “stuck with a cat on mars”. So I begrudginly started, planning to either switch to a new project a few hours in, or use what I would have built in that time to make a smaller version.
I had a crisis after 8 hours, when I decided this was too big, and tried out other ideas. „Lone asteroid in space“ I actually started, when I realized switching to that would be even more work. It was quite a dilemma. I (not crying, completely manly) went back with further resolve to finish this project (in a manly way), and soldiered on.
After 32 hours everything then came together and started working, which lifted my spirits, and caused the classic game-design-high.
I noticed near the end that I unable to create the payoff every time. If the cat dies very early, the player will have a lot of food, thus eliminating the conflict and creating a boring game/ending. Typing this I realize I could’ve built it so that the reserves will adjust. ARGH THIS WOULD’VE BEEN PERFECT
Then there is the thing that re-playing it offers little incentive, as the gameplay already was rather un-action-y, expecially should the player die. Even a nightly checkpoint wouldn’t have worked, as resetting the player each death would reail-road them to the „desired“ ending, which is strictly against my principles.
These things stem from the initial idea, and show how much I tried to fix this issue but ultimately failed (see timelapse).
Here’s an important thing: We are a lot better at playing games than the average player, especially at playing our own games. It didn’t even occur to me add some sort of crosshair/targeting-thingie, as my aim was always spot on. This stuff you only realize after one day not playing it.
All in all
Although this had a very bumpy ride, I believe it was a succesful experiment. Those who actually manage to get through to the end all agree, calling it „amazing“, „brilliant“, and me a „meany“. On Kongregate this is already my second most-played game, Ludum-Dare-ratings are doing well, and I even got a review.