Matthew Vroman

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Game Designer


My Dad's the Grinch - Postmortem

If you haven't played it yet, go check it out here. Then come back and give this a read.

I originally told myself I wasn't going to participate in December's Ludum Dare. I ended up getting sick from lack of sleep during the last one and it made for a pretty miserable next few days at work. However when Friday rolled around and I saw everyone talking about Ludum Dare again, I said screw it and decided to participate again. I had plans with friends on Sunday so I decided to take it easy and only work on Friday and Saturday.

The Idea
After getting home from work, I spent a good amount of time thinking of different ways to utilize the theme. I try to throw out all the obvious ideas that come to mind. I don't want to make the same game as someone else, although that's become a daunting task with 2000+ entries. With the holidays approaching, I settled on the idea of Christmas presents.

What's in the box!?!?!?!

What Went Right

  • No Stress. With only Friday night and Saturday to make the game, I settled on a small scope and decided not to push myself too hard. It was actually really nice to submit on Sunday morning and spend the rest of the day knowing I already hit the deadline. I knew my tie to the theme wasn't super strong and so I wasn't worried about trying to rank highly in the competition. Instead I just tried to relax and create a fun little experience.
  • Animation. I'm a big fan of polish. It's what takes a good game and makes it feel that much better. With such a short time span, I try to work with a small scope for the game so that I have time to add fun animations and transitions that make the game stand out. Since I didn't work on the game on Sunday, my scope was extra small- but I still tried to add the same amount of polish- I think it helped to make the game feel more complete.
  • Controlled Randomness. Randomness is a double edged sword- especially in a jam where a person might only spend 30 seconds playing through your game. For this game, the location of presents, which boxes they are in, and the color of the boxes, are random. With this in mind, I was running into some ugly scenarios, where all the boxes were the same color or all the boxes would be the same shape. By including some limiting functions, I could still put randomness in the game so that it was a different experience each time while also guaranteeing that the gameplay screen wasn't an ugly mess of colors and shapes.

What Went Wrong

  • No strong tie to the theme. My game is tied to the theme, I swear- but it's not nearly as obvious as games such as 'One Bullet', 'One Life', etc. This is partially because I tried to avoid obvious game ideas but mostly a failure on my part to emphasize why the player gets to pick another present after getting the previous one right.
  • Picking presents that took advantage of the hints. I designed all the hint systems and then tried to think of presents that fit into those systems. My lack of imagination led to the 'Weigh' hint being almost completely useless.
  • Tall and long boxes could potentially hold the same item. My initial plan was that the player could eliminate most boxes right away based on their shape. But tall boxes and long boxes could both hold pretty much the same thing. Fail.
  • Flash garbage collector. I (ab)used setTimeout() with a bunch of native flash tweens for doing animations on the Present Inspection screen. In rare instances, the garbage collector would clean up a Tween or setTimeout() that was still waiting to be called- causing for things to remain on screen when the shouldn't be. I ended up hackily fixing this but it was a bit of a pain to fix. The last thing I wanted was for players to get a broken game experience because of something like this.

What Went ...Okay

  • Art. For me, it's extremely time consuming and frustrating to create. I want things done the instant I think of them but good art takes time and patience- and I have neither of those. If you opened the Rainstick during your playthrough then you have my deepest apologies.
  • Sound. Last time I used autotracker, which worked pretty well for a pixel-art style game. This time around my game was made with vector shapes and a retro soundtrack wasn't going to fly. I ended up booting up Garage Band and throwing a few loops together. I believe the final background music was just one track I found in the library cleaned up a bit to loop properly. For sound effects I still rolled with CFXR. Even though the SFX are 8-bit it still seemed to work alright with the feel of the game. The only thing I regret is the SFX I applied for when you shake a present. It sounds a bit too much like a tommy gun. The initial plan was to have a different SFX when each present is shook, to give you a better idea of what's inside. I quickly realized that was a lot of work and I didn't have time to handle that though.

Overall
I'm pretty happy with how the game turned out. Yes, it could have been better, but for the time spent on it I'm happy with the results. Ludum Dare is always a lot of fun to participate in and I'm glad I completed another jam!