Star Traveller - Developer Review
<- Back to blog | Posted on 2 May 2017 by Adam Summerton
Star Traveller was our entry for Ludum Dare 38. This is our post-mortem, which we like to do as an online developer chat (rather than a long essay). You can play the game here on our website, or over at itch.io here. The Ludum Dare entry page can be found here.
The game itself was a short point & click game with a focus on relaxed graphics and audio, with some simple puzzles thrown in. All three of us worked on it in some capacity, and everything was made over the 3-day weekend. Our responsibilities this time were:
Adam D: Designed and programmed the game
James: Did all of the artwork and animation.
Edge: Created all the music tracks and sound effects. (Also Posted blog/Twitter updates)
Our post mortem chat is below…
Edge: OK, hello and welcome to the Star Traveller Developer-Chat-Post-Mortem-Thingy. The very vague agenda is:
1 Idea / Theme
6 Did we learn our lessons from last time?
7 Are we happy with it overall?
Adam D: Sounds good, do you want to start us off with a particular questions or do you want me to just talk about the idea?
Edge: I guess just talk us through the initial idea to start with. I'm actually really interested in this as I wasn't around on the day
Adam D: Well I never like to say a theme is bad, as ideas can come from all kinds of different places. However, this one was difficult, it had already been done in a Ludum Dare before (tiny world) and it was hard to think of an original idea with the theme itself.
So I tried to think of it in our style, less about having an original idea and more about having an original/personal take. I think both James and I just had one idea each, normally we have a lot more. I wasn't exactly inspired.
James: Yes, the theme was very limiting and like you said it had been done before. So I didn't have many ideas either.
Adam D: I thought we could make a nice Miyu style exploration game though.
Edge: So this was one of your first ideas? What was the rejected idea?
James: I have wanted to do a side scrolling r-type like shooter for a while, so my idea was a ship that had been miniaturised to fight inside a computer. The computer chips and resistor would be like a city landscape.
Adam D: I liked that idea, and in hindsight it might have worked a bit better. In the point-and-click puzzle style I had a lot more one-off mechanics to code. I've always thought Miyu and From the Sea were great though, and wanted to try something similar.
Edge: I think we've all wanted to do some space stuff for a while now. I think we should return to space for another game soon
Adam D: Yeah we all love space.
James: Yes, I want to draw spaceships.
Adam D: I've always loved making sci-fi art.
James: Anyway didn't we pick the point and click style because you didn't have a gamepad Adam?
Adam D: Fair point James, I'd forgotten about that! Yes - I thought a shooter really needed to support gamepads and I didn't have one to test on.
Edge: Fair enough, you were spared the pain of implementing multiple control methods
Adam D: I thought it'd be simpler to implement just one. I was trying to keep everything manageable.
James: We had good intentions to keep it simple then added multiple game mechanics and sabotaged ourselves.
Adam D: I genuinely thought it was a more manageable idea than it was, I always think that and never learn.
Edge: I've mentioned before that in game jams I am obsessed with getting all the mechanics working and scaleable in a single level. I think I'm guilty of going too far the other way and trying to make everything reusable and scalable, but then realising I will never reuse or add to anything because there are only 6 hours left
Adam D: We were good at cutting stuff down during the jam, but mostly because I kept listening to James. He kept asking could it be simpler and I'm glad that my answer was yes most of the time.
James: I do wish we had just designed one game mechanic at the start then implemented it in different ways maybe?
Edge: That is good, but I feel somewhat aggrieved as when I'm programming James has a habit of saying "Can we just add this one simple sounding thing?", which is painfully complicated. I sense a conspiracy
James: Hey, you're always the one that wants to add 500 levels.
Edge: I do have level blindness
Adam D: I guess it can always go either way, I did say no to a couple of the animation challenges which I would've like to have done just because of time. I also had level blindness, started off thinking there might be 16 puzzles... absolutely laughable.
James: I promise I won't do that again, I'm all about keeping it simple from now on.
Adam D: Yeah I think one core mechanic was definitely lacking and would've been a smarter move.
Edge: We have said things like that before...
Adam D: Every time we all say it, I think we just like punishing ourselves, either that or games are always complicated. It's hard to come up with a really compelling idea that is simple to implement.
James: I do think we are getting better at cutting things down, it's obviously a slow process.
Adam D: We keep reinforcing those lessons and they are starting to get through.
Edge: I think in fairness to you Adam, it was your first solo programming jam over such a short period of time (at least first for 5 years or so?). I have done 14 now and still struggle
Adam D: Yep, I only finished one before with Neural Nodes. I was impressed with how much I learned doing Not Alone though, it really helped me to solve some of the problems this time around.
Edge: It did seem like there were basically no bugs
Adam D: I was very systematic and structured everything into our pseudo-classes. It helped to control everything and track down bugs easily. No bugs until the end with the dreaded audio. I struggle with audio in general, both coding and making it. I had more time to sort it all out in Not Alone, but doing this jam I was having a little stress at the end so I'm thankful you stepped in and helped a lot with that.
Edge: Haha no worries. May as well talk about that while we're on it then
Adam D: Yeah let's talk about the audio, it was ambitious trying to do the dynamic audio. I think it was a cool effect though, have you been thinking about trying something like that for a while?
Edge: I basically always want to do that, I did the same for Kitsuni, but it never went into the game because of technical problems. Did the same again with From the Sea with a lot more success. This was the first time I had the soundtrack changing based on things you do in the game though (although not sure anyone noticed)
Like each system you completed added an element to the central soundtrack, and those systems themselves had more of the audio element that they were switching
Adam D: I did notice some of it, I love the bit with the moons, it sounds great. I remember liking the whale in From the Sea a lot too.
James: Yes, the moon music was great.
Edge: I was actually really happy with the music this time. I wrote a whole other track to start with, and just scrapped it because it was too "cute". That was the advantage of only having audio to do this time
Adam D: I've noticed that you been able to be a lot more ambitious with the audio for this and for the Pixel Horror Jam, given that you've not had as much to do in other areas.
Edge: Yeah it was good actually, although not happy with the sound effects at all. Really ran out of time. Some of them are nice, but because we had to randomise them then they can be a bit jarring
Adam D: At times they work brilliantly but yes sometimes they can clash.
Edge: I think I could do something genuinely good sound-wise with enough time
Adam D: I think so too.
Edge: Next time!
James: You did only have a day to do all the sound so I think it's great what you did in the time.
Edge: Thanks. My old iPad is seriously bad now though, I have to invest in a better setup as it will break soon. Spent around 1.5hrs just waiting for it to do things
Adam D: Yeah good tools are important given the time limits, no point in slowing yourself down further.
Adam D: Shall we move on to the graphics?
Edge: Go for it
Adam D: Mr James, how did you find it?
James: I was a bit tired and emotional the day after and was not happy with it at all. Especially after it was mentioned it looked a lot like someone else's style (Kurzgesagt). Looking at it now though I don't think it's that bad.
Adam D: I love it and think it looks great. It is similar to that style but there are differences.
Edge: Yes I think that flat graphic style has roots all over the place, there's plenty of room to make it your own
Adam D: Definitely Kurzgesagt looks similar to a bunch of other work that came before them too.
James: I'm pleased with the colours and the flat style. I just wished it looked more original. It's hard when you're pushed for time and you don't have chance to think about things, you end up taking the easy route and that style is very easy to do.
Edge: The colour palettes are really nice
Adam D: Yeah of course, pixel art and minimalist/flat graphic styles are so quick but also look great.
James: It has made me think about where I want to go from here and that I need to work on my own style a bit more.
Edge: I think the flat style is really nice, it would be good if you kept to that but put your own mark on it. Do you prefer doing that to pixel art?
James: Not sure really, I don't mind doing either now. It can just take a while to get back into doing proper pixel art, it's such a different discipline. But pixel art is quicker in the long run, that's why I gravitate to the flat graphicy style when we do a proper HD game.
Adam D: They are quite different, it's a very different way of thinking about design.
Edge: Something I wonder when we do this flat style - is there a way of keeping the style but making it feel a bit less flat? Like a way to give it some texture or depth? Is it just a case of time?
James: I guess it would be a different style if it had more depth, you'd need to add a lot more gradients and shadow. That would take longer.
Adam D: I tried to do that with things like Miyu and Brood, adding a bit of texture, noise and shading over the top. It is time consuming to add more to it though. James often does nice subtle shading, Toy Box Metropolis was a good example.
Edge: I think I like a bit of texture over things, I love a bit of subtle film grain. I think that's why I like those filters that you both hate, it's the texture
James: I like filters when there is a reason for it. Like the TV lines, it's ok if your meant to be looking at a TV in-game but why would it be there other wise.
Edge: I think it can add some visual interest to a game with super basic graphics. I also like the texture as I said. Probably not the way for games with a strong visual style
James: It's just slapping a visual effect on, changing the way all the art looks. I don't know, it kind of feels cheap.
Adam D: I do understand liking the texture, my natural style is very texture and shading heavy. It's been good for me to adapt and try out different approaches though, it's helped me broaden out a bit.
Edge: I suppose if you designed with it from the start it would be different. Something I'll save for if I ever have to do a solo game again
Adam D: Yeah I think if it was designed in as part of the look then it's different, and it's something we have control over so we can adjust the look how we would want it.
Edge: So I guess moving on to the big question, are you happy with it as a game?
James: I am happy with it, yes. As always there are things we could improve but I think it has a unique style and some interesting gameplay. I do wish it was longer but that was just due to the time limit.
Adam D: There's a lot more that would need to be done to really make it work. I have ideas about game play that I'm not really experienced enough to make work in the time limit...if that makes sense? I can't really implement things the way I would like yet. It's like learning to draw again, and knowing the artwork that I want to produce but not knowing how to get there. I like the audio and visuals, and I'm happy with what I managed to get done. I've got a lot to learn though.
Edge: About a week after a jam I always feel like I want to go again, because I could already do things better
Adam D: It's why I've wanted to do more, I know that I'm not producing great games yet but it's about getting the experience. I did love doing it
Edge: Do you think you'll work more on it?
Adam D: I don't think so, beyond any bug fixes. I'm not as compelled to do a post-jam version in the same way as Not Alone. I'm happy enough to leave it there and move on to something else.
James: I think that's the right call, it was a good learning experience but not something I would like to spend more time on.
Edge: The only thing I would like to do is change the sound effects so they're not random. I think that would help
Adam D: That would be easy enough to do, it's just updating the SFX class and searching for the function call and adding in a sound effect parameter.
Edge: So to wrap up then, one final question... Did we learn all of the lessons we promised we would last time?
James: I think we did try and keep things simple, or at least simpler.
Adam D: Perhaps not exactly, but we definitely had them in mind. I was trying to think about the core and we were trying to scale back. As long as we keep drilling in those lessons and keeping them in mind it should become easier.