Waves. That was a very broad theme. You can take it into a lot of directions. From physical, visual, to scientific. Heck, it quantum physics all particles are just wave functions waiting to collapse. Here’s a few sketches I had as we were brainstorming on the table. Not much made it into the final game, but it was fun.
Anyway, fortunately the game devs that came before us decided to call periodic enemy spawns as “waves”. It aligned with ideas I toyed with when I saw this year’s diversifiers listed in advance. I’ve wanted to explore swarm mechanics for a while. I tried to both scale down my scope and to give myself a creative constraint by using only one button for controls. Less to debug, right? I kept the notebook nearby for writing down to-do lists and handy sketches of some of the problems I was solving too. It really helps to some something analog to work with, not just staring at a screen for hours. The last blurbs and the theme were just last-minute additions. I thought of having just a generic radar or space theme at first. But why not go the extra pretentious mile? Brainwaves, synchronization, lots of missiles. Very much like video games and anime. I finished the whole thing early by lunchtime on Sunday so I uploaded and then went on a long bus ride to the event floor.
I got there and almost everybody was scrambling to get the games finished. It was hectic. The organizers even prepared an uploading queue to use their own school’s servers. After that was done, it was time for the show proper. All of us were given pieces of paper to write down stuff in and to attract people to play the games. A flashy title screen, with the logo, and a video reel of gameplay helped a lot. Since I did the game solo, nobody else was there to stay by the machine. So I didn’t even get to play other devs’ games this year.
So what did players think of the game?
Most of the time their first question was: “So what are the controls?” And my opening line would be always: “Just spacebar. That’s it.” I had planned it to be difficult from the beginning. Trial and error was part of the design. It was supposed to be like breaking the fourth wall as attempting to ‘synchronize’ with the AI. That didn’t really come across well from the game itself. So the first thing I would improve on is putting in a tiny tutorial. Even if it’s just tiny unobtrusive bits of text that are presented in the voice of the game. That would help immersion better. It clicked with some players, though. There were those eureka moments where they got the hang of the controls. It was great to watch. One player even coined the term that there was a sort of ‘rhythm’ to the game. I kind of stole that and told that to the succeeding players that arrived.
The next point someone noticed was the aesthetic. Even with the low fidelity graphics, a player said I nailed a distinctive look for the game. I was very pleased with that comment. Some people gathered from seeing others play. Those synth sounds helped a lot too, I turned them up to max. Another player asked why the other guy made it look very easy when he was watching.
Speaking of being easy, I noticed that players were getting ridiculously high scores. The first build I presented was way too lenient. It’s nice to give your audience the feeling of power but not too much. On another note, I put a high score counter on top. There were hardcore players who actually stayed a while just to beat that. Not a hard thing to accomplish since at this point it was an unbalanced proof of concept. For that, I took a few minutes off to take another build into Hard Mode. No more extra health for you. The next wave of players died off faster.. but some of them still stayed a bit to replay until they got the hang of it.
At the end of the playtests it we were supposed to present our games at the stage for five minutes each, it was an part of the program annually. But after some thought, the organizers forfeited the plan because there were too many games this year. Fifty games for five minutes totaled to about four hours. We weren’t staying for that. So they moved on to the next fun part. The individual awards. There were no major prizes this year, or in the future. It was thought they introduced an unnecessary air of competition. From now on, there would only be pieces of paper with our games’ silly accomplishments. I got the IBROKEMYSPACEBARAWARD.
What’s next for the game? I plan to add more features to it. Play with it for a while and get a dev blog running about it on the site. I’ll probably take it into a more anime direction. Like syncing the spawns to music. Adding kill combos, and maybe even movement or invulnerability bonuses when you score them. It’ll be a testbed for crazy ideas.
You can check it out here at the game jam page.