Thoughts on My Little Planetoid

Last weekend I competed in Ludum Dare and created My Little Planetoid in 48 hours. Read on to find out what I thought afterwards (a post-mortem, if you will).

What went right

This is both a science-fiction and city-builder game. The combination itself is rather rare.

Building stuff
It just feels awesome. And I love the “Build now on moon”-gag, which I think is quite good game-design.

According to people this video is “intense”. It might be due to the orchestral music, but probably because my facial expressions during Ludum Dare alternates between “frown” and “manic laughter”.

I composed this over the course of the 24 hours. The first idea of the music I had immediately after I decided on the idea, and it grew from there. It has been quite well received, with many people saying they like it and find it relaxing.

Also, the idea of a space-banjo is just awesome.

Having empty space as background meant I was able to concentrate more on the 3d-models in the foreground. And while they could be improved a lot, you’ll notice there’s a lot of detail to be found.

The combination of the sombre soundtrack and the space-y visuals worked quite well, which people also remarked positively.

What went alright

This time I actually prepared. I made a list of ideas for every possible theme. Tiny World was the one where I didn’t have anything brilliant ready, so threw in an idea I already had before. After the announcement I developed more of them, but threw them out when I saw others made them first.

Scope in fiction
My Little Planetoid has a somewhat weird range of buildings. You start out with houses and farms, which could position this game anywhere in the past or future. Then you quickly advance to Science-Laboratories and advanced-space-stations. So while it is a progression through technology, I feel it could’ve been more focused.

Scope in design
In design-terms My Little Planetoid is huge.  It has more unique features/elements than any of my previous games. It has multiple complex 3d-models. It has a somewhat extensive GUI. And, most importantly, a huge web of each other influencing resources and variables.

I was even glad when something emergent happened, but there was lot of potential for bugs and unforeseen combinations. Which led to…

Balancing & bug-testing
I literally coded in something 10 minutes before the deadline. There was no time left for dedicated balancing and bug-hunting, only what I noticed during test-plays myself. The resource-balancing now kinda works, but it does feel off sometimes.

In the end the basic resources become abundant, so you aren’t really thinking about them any longer.

I used a basic pixelated diffuse-map on all things. Sadly there was no time to take care of UV-maps, but it doesn’t really show unless you really look.

What went wrong

Failure to realize how bloody huge this project is
This led to a (frankly mental) development-speed in the last hours, and the incomplete balancing.

All in all

This was an awesome and fun gamejam. My Little Planetoid is right now one of the most-played games, and people really enjoy it. The general consensus is that this could be huge if further developed. And so I will :P

Play | LD-page | Mini-Review (at 9:50) | Review



Tomb Raider 3 – 14 years later – a retrospective, pt.3

Let’s finish this. After Lara already explored the jungles of India and the faraway place called Nevada, she moves closer and closer to her final destination. Whatever that was anyway. I forgot.

General things:

  • The game still does that thing where it spawns a boulder right behind you that you can’t avoid it unless you already know about it.
  • There are 6 outfits in this game, 3 have bare midriffs, 2 are skin-tight. I think I like the Antarctica-gear best, it’s practical. ..mostly
  • Cannibals! Amputations! You know, for the children.
  • There is a missile-launcher/bazooka in this game, which insta-kills every enemy, but there’s barely any ammo for it (I think maybe 5 missiles in the entire game), which makes them a valued commodity. The rockets look yellow-black, and immediately stand out everywhere.
  • Tomb Raider 3 massively toned down the “spawn enemy in your back”-issue, although it still happens sometimes. It will have an embarrassing return in Tomb Raider 4.
  • One render-graphic shows Lara with a belly-button-piercing. It is never referenced again and treated like it never happened.
  • You don’t explode if you enter the cheats incorrectly. Awwww
 The dinosaurs (small and large) are still terrifying. Has something to do with the clunky controls.
  • I’ve always subconsciously admired the minimalistic interface. Your ammo is displayed as a simple number in the corner, your health is a red bar on top, breathing-air is a blue one. They are only shown when actually necessary, so you never feel like they are in the way.
  • You can sprint in Tomb Raider 3. When you do, you get a third bar on top (a green one). The sprint is really useless though. You can only run straight ahead, it’s very short, and only marginally faster than usual running. So far I know it’s only used in a few puzzles, some of them optional.
  • Unlike sprinting, crawling does make sense and is fun. It feels a lot better suited to the environment to crawl through tight passages, and you’re able to explore vents. VENTS! Imagine that.
  • In Tomb Raider 2 dropped items spawned at the feet of the enemy. In TR3 they spawn in the middle of the next ground-tile, so a medkit might be within a dead guy’s torso.
Hey there, flamethrower-guy. …Lara never gets a flamethrower.
  • All items already in the environment are in the center of a square too. This takes away a lot of possibilities for item-placement. In TR2 you could, for example, have to carefully balance to an edge of a platform to get something.
  • In TR2 items are sprites, here they are 3d-models. I think this might be the reason for the tile-placement.
  • You can walk slowly through deadly spikes, but you don’t really notice or learn this until far into the game, so might make a lot more complicated jumps than necessary.
  • Lara references Jeff Goldblum in a cutscene. Wait what.
  • The bad guy is Finnish. Who would’ve thought.
  • The cave-ins and eartquakes feel like classic Star Trek action, as in “shake the camera while I pretend to fall sideways”.

On to my ongoing exploration:

  • There is a bonus-level which I never played. You can access it after the end of the game if you have found all secrets.
  • Just accicentally pressed quick-load instead of quick-save and landed 3 levels back. See, it happened again.
  • There are some kayaking-sections that are just awful. I never managed to make it through them, so I cheated me some medpacks and gulped them down whenever I got the into the damage/kill-zones.
  • The bad guy in TR2 jammed a dagger into his heart and gained superpowers. This guy here just jammed a dagger-shaped rock into his heart and gained superpowers.
  • Why is everyone so polite? Stranded in the middle of the jungle, with no supplies, predators everywhere, they go “Good day to you, Sir! May I offer you some biscuits?” The polite mercenary without a leg isn’t even supposed to be British.
“And a splendid day to you, young Miss!”
  • Some level have multiple paths through them. They usually split very early, and then both ways arrive at the last room. When I played the game 14 years ago I was intrigued that there was another way to explore I never even knew was there, but it has some downsides. Some goodies/secrets can be seen from one path, but never accessed from it. It didn’t feel like an incentive to play again, more like a “fuck you” to the player.
  • Just met the King of the Mole-people, with thug-bodyguard. All posh and polite.
  • Another polite bad guy. WHY IS EVERYONE SO POLITE. It’s worse than The Avengers. Not the Marvel-one, the crappy Uma-Thurman-one from 1998.
  • In the first level in London, right before the end, you can find the “cathedral-key”. In the next level it has disappeared. I never figured out what it does (turns out it’s for the bonus-level).
  • I think this is where they realized there’s hardly any raiding of tombs. Conversely, Tomb Raider 4 is set entirely in Egypt. Lots of tombs over there.
  • Correction: The shotgun can be found in London too, but it is very easily missed.
  • In Antarctica you get the warmth-mechanic, which limits the time you can spend in water. It isn’t really fun and will never be used again.
  • The mine-level in Antarctica scared me too much the first play-through, so I cheated my way through it back it. Let explore it now!
  • In the last level the bad-guy Willard mutates into a freaky spider. I was so afraid of this scene that I had to wait a year before I had the guts to confront him.
  • It’s still creepy as hell.
(If you look closely you can tell it was a person once)
  • The giant Willard-spider has only one attack, which insta-kills you. Not fun.
  • Final cutscene: Lara goes outside, evades some guards, steals a helicopter and has an aerial battle with another helicopter. What. The final scene, the final climax of the last 20 hours, is Lara destroying a foe/obstacle that has been introduced just 30 seconds earlier? This is worse than Mass Effect 3.

For 3 games the TR-formula has changed very little, and the cracks in it were becoming more and more apparent. Tomb Raider 4 will deviate from that is some significant ways, including a new inventory, more item-mechanics, less globe-trotting, and a more personal plot.

Will I check it out, to compare to the present of game-design as well? …perhaps.


My Little Planetoid

This weekend was the 10th anniversary of the Ludum-Dare-Competition, with the goal to create a game within 48 hours. The theme chosen was “Tiny World”, which was unique and quite challenging.

I created My Little Planetoid, a city-building-game set on a small planetary body. You can build houses, factories, and send satellites and rockets into space.

Play | LD-Entry | Timelapse | Soundtrack

Go check it out, it’s quite fun :)


Tomb Raider 3 – 14 years later – a retrospective, pt.2

Last time in this retrospective I discussed the gameplay and level-design of the by now 14-year-old Tomb Raider 3. How will it compare to “modern” games? Did it do some things brilliantly, while embarassingly failing on others?

Read on for the thrilling conclusion.

More general stuff:

  • You know, I think Lara is evil. She kills members of endangered species (tigers, dragons, octopi), steals for her personal gain, and murders hapless security guards, monks and soldiers.
  • Winston the Butler is back! He follows you around! You can lock him in the freezer! You can shoot him!
This is one of the loading-screen-collages. Bask in its glory.
  • Tomb Raider Legend (the seventh game) has the most “ordinary” boobs. They were quite pleasant compared to the anti-gravitational orbs of Tomb Raider 3-4.
  • A lot of the “new” guns are actually re-skins. The MP5 already appeared in TR2 as the M16. The Desert Eagle, new in TR3, is a revolver TR4 (because the standard guns are Desert Eagles then, presumably).
  • It just dawned on me that both TR1 and TR3 begin with a meteorite striking the earth and bringing some alien artifact with it. Aliens apparently were in this from the beginning.
  • Medpacks have a green cross on them instead of the classic red. I thought this was a nice touch.
  • Good god the German synchronization is just awful. It’s full of the useless germanisms like “tja, I don’t know what to do then” *shudder*
I literally have no idea who that is, and I watched the cutscene thrice. I think Lara doesn’t like her.
  • I think the bad guy is inefficient because the player never confronts him at the beginning. Oh, Lara does, in a cutscene. It doesn’t happen in gameplay, which would be 1000x stronger.
  • TR3 does introduce a bad guy early on, but he’s a lot less memorable that Marco Bartoli from TR2. See, I even remembered his name.
  • There are vehicle-sections in this game, which require a lot of precision. The sections in TR2 were a lot more fun, what with the boat-jumping and snowmobile-machinegunning.
  • There still is this fun bug, that when you quick-load within 0.5 seconds after having quick-loaded already, all the textures are garbled. It’s fun because Lara is breathing letters.
  • I think the bad guy in the first act (“Tony”?) might be a riff of Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now. The kids will love it!

Let’s continue exploring. This time I go to the mythical land of “Nevada”.

  • The option to chose the order of levels is a weird one. As a first-time-player, you don’t know what the levels are like and probably have no preference, so it’s effectively random. As a veteran of the game you’ve already made up your mind about the order. As a kid you probably don’t even know what the symbols on the globe mean.
  • And the game drops me off in my new chosen location, again without comment. I’m in Nevada now. Lots of tombs to raid. I guess.
  • I always went for Nevada first. You lose all your weapons in that chapter, and I didn’t want to be at a disadvantage later in the game in case I wouldn’t get them back.
  • Oh, flying enemies. They are not at all annoying.
  • In Nevada is a huge canyon filled with water. There are items hidden and a lot of opportunities to climb around, so you usually go exploring. Then it turns out the bottom of the canyon is a giant dead end and you wasted all your quicksave-points in it.
  • At the end of the chapter you enter a spaceship in Area 51. It’s bigger on the inside, which is a nice gag.
  • Next to the spaceship is my favorite “secret”. There’s an entrance in the wall that leads to a corridor with moving lasers, which you have to avoid. At the end is a pool with two orca-whales. For no reason whatsoever. The whales never appear anywhere else. Oh, and there’s a medkit in the tank.
That is actually some of the better texture-work in this game.
  • I’ve lost all my guns. I love these scenarios, they force the player to think creatively and turn all rules upside down. Now how did I get out of this cell….
  • A side-effect of losing your weapons is that you can’t cheat anymore, so I’ll play this level for real.
  • Oh right: A guard comes in and tries to beat me up / rape me. I counter by running around like an idiot trying to lose him.
  • In my cell are security-lasers. IN the cell. I can trip them by walking around. WHY
  • I let a terrorist/murderer out of his cell, who promptly kills the guard. All is well.
  • In one of the room are 3 crates. All 3 look like the moveable crate I used before, but only one of them actually is. /Sigh
  • Pressed a button which flooded the crate-room with water. What. Why? Why would you even have such a thing? What is the purpose of flooding said useless room with massive crates, that could never fit through any of the doors?
My friends from the high-security-wing killing a dude, I mean, helping me raid tombs.
  • There are surface-to-air missiles and a F117-Stealh-Bomber in this “prison”.
  • Oh, look, a 1-pixel-wide dark red laser that insta-kills you and you’d never be able to spot the first time. How fun!
  • Giant water-room with lots of invisible currents so you arbitrarily can’t go in some directions. Woo, more fun.
  • Oh, I found my stuff. It’s in this easily skippable room off to the side.

The longer you play this game the more you realize it moves away from the core-formula. There are barely any tombs anymore, and instead of fighting a central antagonist Lara has to deal with multiple people. The desert-levels around Area 51 also highlight how insane the level-design has become, with less and less care for plausibility. This will turn out disastrous in Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness (pt. 6, the failed reboot).

There will be one more part of this retrospective, in which I’ll take apart the final chapters. Go read it here.


Tomb Raider 3 – 14 years later – a retrospective, pt.1

I’ve already chronicled my thoughts on Tomb Raider 2. Quite recently I’ve had some cravings to go check out its successor again, and so I fired it up. How has it evolved? Will the future (i.e. “the now”) look kindly on it? Read on to learn all these things in part 1 of this retrospective! (turns out I have tons of material, so I’m turning it into a trilogy)
I’ll chronicle my thoughts like last time, i.e. In bullet-point-form. For your convenience.
This is what it looks like, btw.
Here are some general observations:
  • Lara’s breasts feature prominently. Almost every render-picture has them, and they seem to have grown since TR2.
  • There are loading-screens in the PC-version now, but they are some of the most hideous ones I’ve ever seen. Basically they are collages of drawn pictures and render-scenes, while a small map in the corner shows the location where Lara is supposed to be.
  • The loading-screen for London shows Lara’s location to be the middle of the North Sea.
  • The mansion/training-level is still fun. There’s loads of stuff to do and to explore, even more than in Tomb Raider 2. There’s the attic, the shooting-range, the hidden trophy-room, the jumping-course, the obstacle-course, the RACETRACK, the hidden keys, the bug that lets you walk on the roof, the maze, the walk-in-fridge, etc.
The hidden trophy-room with stuff from previous games. The dagger! That sphere-thing from Tomb Raider 1!
  • You can exit the premises of the mansion this time, which you couldn’t in Tomb Raider 2 (well, you could, by exploiting a bug). When you leave you, end up back in the main menu, which is a nice gag.
  • The rotating inventory is still a thing of beauty.
  • Flares are so much fun. Pop one, light a room. You can carry them, you can drop them. You can throw them down chasms and into water. If you pull out your weapons you automatically drop them.
  • The best thing about flares: The T-Rexes you encounter will run towards them. It’s lovely.
  • I’ve wanted to buy some real flares to play with them for a long time. Turns out a single magnesium-flare costs about 10€, and lasts for ~2 minutes. But they can light a stadium, and they burn underwater.
  • Unexpectedly, I can set a resolution of 1440×900 without problems. I’m almost sure that resolution wasn’t even invented back in 1998…
  • Cutscenes still play, but in a horrible resolution.
  • The model used for Lara’s basic guns changes from time to time. For the first 3 games it’s 1911 Colts. In Tomb Raider 4 she wields Desert Eagles, and USPs appear in later games and movies
  • There is a mini-addon called Tomb Raider 3: The Lost Artifact, akin to the “Director’s Cut”-extra-level of Tomb Raider 1 & 2. I’ve never played it HNNNG MUST HAVE IT
Enough generalities. On to exploring and raiding tombs then:
  • The game drops you off in India, with no explanation whatsoever. Actually it drops you off “in the jungle”. I’m not even sure “India” is mentioned at all. Tomb Raider 1 & 2 had much better introductions.
  • The very first scene is so ham-fisted, I will need multiple bullet-points to explain.
  • You start off at a giant slide, the probably largest in all of the Tomb Raider-games.
  • Right to the left, hidden under the bushes, in a small spot, is the shotgun. This is the only place to get it in the game.
  • You can reach it by jumping precisely (and I mean precisely) on the small spot where you won’t slide down. This spot is hidden under leaves, and will require multiple attempts.
  • You’ll never be able to figure out there’s a hidden weapon under there unless you already know about it.
    This. This is were you can get the shotgun. Can you see it?
  • This game is brutal, it insta-kills you often. It took me 12 tries to reach the bottom of this slide. And this is the very first scene.
  • Spikes. 3 times. You can barely see them, and they kill you.
  • A monkey! Well, an evil monkey. It’ll try to kill you.
  • The monkey has purple blood, a weird symptom the German release and concern about “violence”. Surely the discolored blood will put parents at ease. Human enemies have purple blood too.
  • Down the slide are 2 hidden extras. To the left are ammo and a medpack, to the right is a Sims-like green octahedron-crystal. You can only reach one of these, and only if you prepare for it and jump all the way to the right/left.
  • The crystals are “save-tokens” in the Playstation-version. Collecting one gives the player the option to save once. In the PC you can save without restrictions. The crystals remain, but are now “insta-medpacks”. They still feel weirdly out of place.
  • The levels are huge, and appear a lot larger. There are tons of spaces to explore, and ammo/flares/medpacks are hidden everywhere.
  • Every level in Tomb Raider 2 has 3 hidden dragon-statues, which are the “secrets”. If you find all 3, you get a special item (like the grenade-launcher in level 1, which otherwise is only accesible after level ~12). In Tomb Raider 3 a level can have a variable number of secrets, which are just stuff. The aforementioned shotgun was a “secret”, and things as mundane as medkits can be too.
    Funnily enough, the next game to use this color-scheme was the gpu-chomping Far Cry 6 years later.
  • The game tells you in the statistics “found 3 of 5 secrets”, but this is a lie. There often are more secrets than shown, which is partly due to the large levels and multiple pathways through them. A level with 5 secrets might have actually 9, but it isn’t possible to get all of them in one attempt.
  • To advance from the bottom of the slide you have to press a button that’s almost invisible against the wall behind it. I stuck around for an hour before consulting a guide during my first run back in the day.
  • You meet a mad explorer/mercenary in a cutscene at the end of the level. He closes a briefcase, then holds it by the wrong side, where there shouldn’t be a handle. This always bugged me.
  • The game is split up into locations, and you can chose in which order to play. You start of in India. After that you can chose to go to Nevada, London or Pacific Islands. After those are completed, the game ends in Antarctica.
Tomb Raider 2 feels like the better game overall. The narrative is more gripping, the locales are fun and varied, and there are some good pay-offs. TR3 isn’t as good, but still competent and fun.
This article will continue in Part 2.

Protesting for Molyjam

This weekend was Molyjam, where hundreds of developers worldwide found themselves together to each create a game in 48 hours based on a tweet by @PeterMolydeux, who is constantly spitballing new ideas and concepts.

So of course I signed up.

The idea I chose to develop is

“Imagine a game in which you have to join protests to make changes to the rules within the game’s world.”

You join protests and change the world (literally). Weather boring you? Protest for a new one! Irritated by the movement-controls? Protest!

Play | Molyjam-entry | Review 1 | Review 2