Over the past weekend I made a little game called Follow the Sun, for Ludum Dare 28. I want to take some time to go through the process of making the game, talking about what I learned and how I approached making a game in 48 hours.
For those of you who do not know what Ludum Dare is, it is a “competition” where you make a game from scratch in 48 hours, based on a theme that is determined by voting (the theme is released when the competition starts). This also means that you have to make all the assets yourself in that time frame, and code it from the ground up. I say “competition” because it’s more about actually making the game, than it is about winning. It’s a difficult thing to make a complete game in 48 hours!
In this postmortem, there are a bunch of things that I want to hit upon. First I’ll give a description of the game. Then I’m going to talk about the theme of the game vs. the theme of the competition. Then I’m going to go into what I couldn’t do due to time running out, and what I couldn’t do due to lack of skill. Finally, I’ll talk about my general experience making Follow the Sun. Suffice it to say this postmortem will ruin part of the game for you if you haven’t played it. If you don’t want to get story-spoiled, play it first before reading on!
About Follow the Sun
Follow the Sun is a short, 3D game where the player controls a child charged with rescuing the king. At the start of the game, the main character, a child named Kayin, sees the face of the king in the sun, asking Kayin to save him from the corruption that has befallen the land. To do this, the king uses the last of his strength to grant Kayin a power to cleanse the corruption, but it will only last until night falls. The implied goal is to make your way to the king, killing the red corruption along the way by using the granted power. However, and here is where the spoiler part comes into play, there is something deeper going on that I could not quite show off in this version. The king speaks of a great evil that is coming to the land, but in reality, that evil he speaks of is the player. The player is being led along by blind obedience in an authority figure, and it is Kayin who is corrupted, not the red entities the player is charged to destroy. The unstated goal of the game is supposed to be to recognize that the player is killing people with the power given to him, and then to refuse to follow the king’s orders by going home. More about this in the later sections.
The theme for Ludum Dare 28 was “You Only Get One” and this was difficult to work out. Actually, when the theme voting was going on, I was fairly sure that the winner was going to be “Corruption” due to the large number of votes it got in the early voting rounds. I was brainstorming ideas for corruption before the competition started, and then decided to make sure I could make the idea fit in with any of the top ten themes. The ones that would have been the worst fit were “Duel” and “You Only Get One”, and well that’s what it was.
The theme really threw me for a loop. It was really strange as a theme, and I didn’t want to be making a game that just focused on something like having just one life or having just one use of a weapon, which is what everyone was saying they were going to do. So I fit the theme into my idea with more esoteric concepts.
On the simple side of things, the player only gets one weapon. This actually wasn’t the original idea, but it ended up being that way. In the more complex realm, though, there are two very loose fits to the theme. The first is that the player only gets one evening to reach the king (time flows slowly through the game and after ten minutes the sun sets and the game ends. It was going to be one hour, but there was not enough game for that much time and I wanted it to be noticeable.
In addition to that, the theme also fits because the king only has one chance in Kayin, and places his future on one child. Technically, the player also has only one chance to make a decision, follow the task given by the king, or disobey him. The game also currently kicks you out of the game if you reach any ending, but that was not in the original design.
With the theme fitting in on more of a high level than a low level like most other games, I’m sure a lot of people will end up not seeing how the theme fits in. It’s partially my fault. I shouldn’t have been brainstorming ideas before the theme was revealed. A fun fact about this, though, it was because I came up with a game idea that I decided at the last second to participate in Ludum Dare, so I suppose any game is better than no game.
What Got Left Out Because of Time
There were a lot of things that I didn’t get to because time wasn’t permitting. For the first part, some of the other possible themes lent interesting additions to the game that never made it. One of the potential themes was “Four Elements” and I had the idea of giving the player one choice of four powers, but after having so much trouble with getting one attack working, I decided that I only had time to make one attack.
Something else I wanted to include but did not have the time was related to the enemies. The enemies have very basic AI, they can chase the player, flee from the player, wander about randomly, or just sit there. I had wanted to have the AI switch from wander and no movement to one of the other modes, if they see the player kill someone. This would have reinforced that what the player was doing was “wrong”.
Another way I wanted to show the player that they were doing something “wrong” was to have a point at which the player able to see at some point that they were killing people instead of removing corruption. One way would have been to have a mode where the player could refuse the king at the end and then have the king chase the player home, seeing the death they caused as they went back. I could have also made is to that if the player went left at any time, they would see the reality and then have to choose. I had a system in place for tracking where each death occurs, but I didn’t have enough time to put that kind of a mode in place.
I also wanted to put in a better indicator of the time and the direction of the sun. At the moment, you have to rely on the shadows and lighting to figure it out (which go away if the player has chosen the fastest graphics settings). A GUI showing the direction of the sun and the time left would have been nice, but again, I didn’t have the time for it.
The area design was also very lackluster. I wanted to have obstacles and whatnot in the areas, and perhaps bigger areas, but I just had enough time to throw things together for level design. Not the best thing to do, but I had playable areas at least.
One thing I’m really sad about not having in the game is sound. I really wanted to make a good soundtrack for the game, and have some responsive sounds, but I just ran out of time at the end. There’s still a music managing object in the scenes for running music, it just doesn’t do anything.
At the very end, too, I realized that I didn’t have time to properly boot players to the title screen. I used a lot of static variables, and I didn’t have time to track down which ones were ones I needed to reset when a new game started. This really frustrated people, and it’s the first thing I want to fix in the post-compo version.
What Got Left Out Because of Skill
This was really my first full game made in Unity where the game could be considered finished. As a result, though, there were a lot of things that I couldn’t do because my skill in asset production isn’t very good. I wanted to have enemies that varied in how they looked, but my skill in 3D modeling and animation is very bad. I might have been able to make something eventually, but it really was outside of my skillset. This is also the reason why I never got around to making any kind of special model for the king.
I also had problems with getting particles to work properly. I had wanted to use particles for attacks, but it just wasn’t working. This was also a reason why I didn’t end up with multiple attacks, and why the enemies have no attacks. If I knew more about what I was doing with particles, maybe it would have worked out better, but I just didn’t.
In the end, I am really glad to have made Follow the Sun, and I’d like to work on it more in the coming month or so. The game could use a lot of polish, and the overall theme of the game should be reinforced. I would also like to migrate the game away from a simple shoot-and-kill gameplay, to something more meaningful, but this might have to hold off for a while.
This game took me longer than my last LD entry, I would have probably done better at time management if I had not tried to do the game at the last minute, and if I had not tried to play much with skills I didn’t have (particles and modeling/animation). Making a 3D game might have been a mistake, too, but I could get away with the billboard style area design in 3D. It would have been much harder to make that work in 2D. Overall, I enjoyed making the game, and I hope I have the time and energy to participate in the next LD in April. If you want to try out Follow the Sun, click here.