One game a week #1

I finished my first game jam. For real. This was my… fourth or fifth attempt to participate in a game jam. Previously, I would quit if I didn’t like the theme, or if I got something going on that didn’t let me focus on the game jam. I would also overscope, then quit as there was no way I could finish something on time. This was all wrong, as the whole point of a game jam is to have fun and learn. But, this time, I did it.

Making a game in one week is an exercise on swallowing pride and perfectionism. Finishing a game that you are not terribly ashamed of in 5 days implies leaving a lot of things on the table. And this is a good thing, as you can focus on minimal, simple mechanics, graphics and audio, without spending ages on the game.

The purpose of this challenge is to get better at designing and, specially, releasing games and prototypes. I’m planning to keep making a game a week for as long as I can (which is not easy working full-time and having to look for new jobs or contracts soon). I have a few big(ger) ideas that I don’t have much time to implement, and they would probably be terrible anyway, as I haven’t flexed my game design muscles much yet. So, the more (small) games I make, the better game dev I will become. Eventually, I’ll be able to make one of those big(ger) ideas worth spending the time on them.

Maggie and The Evil Moles is a tinny game where you help a gliding squirrel clear her forest from evil moles that are destroying it. Silly game, silly story. But the important thing was to get something small finished, so I call it a success.

Maggie and The Evil Moles

As part of the challenge, I want to analyse what went well and what went wrong with each game. So, let’s go:

What went well

  • Managed to focus on a simple mechanic (shooting acorns) that I could improve (charge shot) to make the game a bit more interesting.
  • Simple graphics without bells and whistles, but still not eye-bleeding.
  • Reused some code I wrote for a similar project (that, ironically, perfectionism stopped me from publishing, even being a better game than this one – might need to do something about this).
  • Added some sound effects and music.
  • Pico-8 was a good choice, not only because I’ve played around with it enough to make a simple game, but because it constraints you a lot, and this is good for a game jam.

What didn’t go so well

  • I nearly broke the rule of keeping the game as simple as possible when I added bees. This was necessary to make the game more challenging, and I believe that the result is better, but it could have overscoped the original idea. Maybe there was a way to improve the core mechanic (killing moles by shooting acorns) that didn’t imply adding more enemies. That would have been a good game design exercise.
  • While the graphics are simple, I feel like I kept them a bit too minimal. I tried to draw some trees for the background, but didn’t have enough time. I guess I need to get better at pixel art.
  • I feel like I would have never completed this game in 5 days without the code I had written in past projects. This isn’t something bad per se, but I feel like I might get in trouble when I switch to Unity, where I have less recent experience, or when I try a different game genre.
  • I didn’t have time to make music for the game itself, just for the main screen. I can compose music, so this should have been possible. But I ran out of time/energy allocated to this game.
  • While Pico-8 helps you prototyping quickly, there are times where you can spend a good amount of time coding. Placing text, for example, requires more maths than drag-and-drop engines. Tools such as Game Maker Studio 2 can help reduce the amount of coding, and save some time for game design, graphics or sound.

Overall, I’m very happy to have stuck to my commitment of making a game in a week for the game jam. At times, I laughed about how bad the game was. But I ended up finishing something and releasing it, which is way more than I have achieved this year so far. Game jams have been stressful and frustrating for me before, but this time it helped me break the toxic patterns of paralysis by analysis and perfectionism.