Super Platformer RPG Postmortem
Ludum Dare 41: Combine Two Incompatible Genres
On the night of April 20th, 2018, I did some work on my current game Retro Slasher for a few hours, and then went to bed. I was scrolling through Twitter on my phone before I went to sleep, when I saw a tweet about Ludum Dare. It had started about two hours before.
I had heard of Ludum Dare, but never participated. I was interested.
The theme also caught my eye: “combine two incompatible genres”. I had an idea! A platformer / turn-based RPG game had been rolling around in my head for a while, and I thought it fit pretty well. It could combine the best of both worlds, while also having a quirky oil-and-water separation between the two.
So I jumped out of bed and immediately got to work.
I decided to enter the competition rather than the jam. Its requirements are more strict: You get 48 hours rather than 72, you must be a solo dev, you must create all of the content new for the event, and you must release all your source code. I’m a solo developer, and since I’m trying to make it in indie games, I wanted to put myself to this test.
I decided to program the game in pure HTML5. I usually work with C# + MonoGame, but I don’t have a rapid-development engine available yet. I have experience with pure HTML5, however, and knew it would be much faster to get things going. Also, having your game playable in-browser makes it much more accessible.
For the record, I used howler.js for audio, since it makes everything much simpler. Outside of that, there were no libraries used.
I probably made the art in about 10 minutes. I am not a pixel artist, so I couldn’t have made anything much more complicated. I recently played the beautifully-simple Downwell, so I was feeling inspired by its 1-bit art style. (Despite the similarities between this game’s page and Downwell’s, I’ve never seen their site until this moment haha).
My game ended up being the 11th most-rated (note: most, not highest) compo entry this time around (peaking at 4th!). I think the pixel art was probably the reason why so many people played it. I got several compliments for it, and it was my second highest-rated category (next to humor).
In the audio department, there was no music. The sound effects all came from the incredibly helpful sfxr program.
I watched a few streamers play my game in the days following the compo. There was even a Twitch meme made out of it! Possibly my proudest moment yet as a developer.
Between watching the streams and videos, and reading the comments, I discovered that there were a few major issues with the game:
- The platforming is too difficult
- The RPG elements aren’t very clear
The game is made up of two distinct genre sections, and both of them have glaring flaws!
The platforming not only requires lots of precision in your jumps, but the jump goes too fast to feel comfortable. I tried to prevent it from feeling spacey, but I went too far in the other direction. Then, there are the sections where the player goes off the top of the screen when you make certain jumps, so you can’t tell where you’re going to land sometimes.
To quote user Deprecat’s comment:
Players that enjoy hardcore platforming tend to prefer forgiving controls but brutal level designs.
I had it backwards. The level design was kind of hard, but it was really the harsh game physics that got you killed most of the time.
I experienced a wake-up call while watching streamers play:
What I found was that they didn’t finish the game. It’s a 5-minute game at most, but people kept dying at the same spots over and over because my jumps were just too harsh, so they quit. This is a fatal flaw.
As for the RPG elements, there was no in-game explanation for how things worked. Different options told you how much AP they had, and whether or not they had a cooldown, and that’s it. Most people thought the Psychic move would be some sort of magic attack, or after using it didn’t think it did anything at all. It actually reveals the enemy’s health bar at the cost of a turn, but clearly that wasn’t obvious beforehand, nor was it apparent to some players that the enemy health bar even showed up.
I put these things on the game page’s description, and Psychic showed that it had 0 AP, but this was not enough. If I could do things over, I would probably include a description box that tells you what each move does, and some sort of animation that shows the enemy’s health bar appearing.
Considering that I made the game in less than 48 hours, I’m proud of it. It’s a short proof-of-concept, so the following issues don’t ruin your 5-minute flash-in-the-pan experience as much as they would an hours-long investment. But if I move on with the project, these issues must be ironed out:
The game doesn’t advertise its controls to you. Heck, the description doesn’t either. I should’ve added some indication of the controls in the GUI. For the record, it’s arrow keys to move/jump and space bar to select attacks. Most people figured this out, so it’s alright, but that was a huge oversight on my part.
The RPG battle system has almost no balance. There were attempts: you level up, enemies get stronger, they roll a die to determine attack strength, your stronger attack has a cooldown, etc. But there’s no real strategy in selecting Jump until next turn when Hit is available. There’s no way to protect yourself from attacks, there’s no telling how powerful your enemy’s next attack is going to be – it could be anywhere from 1 to 5 AP (or in some cases, even negative, thus giving you HP). And Psychic ended up being basically worthless, since missing even a single turn might cost you the battle.
After all this, how did I score? Well, I did… okay.
I did the math: my overall score is in about the top 40% (precisely, the top 39.379243453%). It isn’t a glamorous position, but it is better than most people in the compo did. 3.299 is above average, so I count myself lucky.
Surprisingly, Humor is my highest-rated category. There were a couple jokes in the dialogue, but I didn’t expect them to land very well. I guess it went over better than the gameplay did though, haha. (Also, nobody has yet pointed out a Star Fox reference in the dialogue, which makes me kind of disappointed).
I was really expecting the graphics to be my highest-rated category, considering that I got several compliments on that but not one on the humor, outside of one or two streamers mentioning it. No complaints here, though.
I put myself to the test, and I wouldn’t say I failed. I created a game in under 48 hours; a game which got me compliments in a few different areas. Realistically, it’s deeply flawed, but I’m aware and I’ll know not to make the same mistakes next time.
I’m looking forward to the next game jam! I think I’ll be able to make something even better.
Thanks for reading! Follow me on Tumblr for more dev blogs, visit the website, or on Twitter for regular updates on what I’m developing. Right now I’m working on Retro Slasher, an 8-bit rogue-lite survival horror.