Gamedev Grievances #24: Doing a Double-Take

Building a game is a bit like writing an essay. If you start at the start and just work your way through, you’re going to get something out at the end… but unless you go back and look through it again with fresh eyes, the end result is going to be pretty poor.

Recently I completed the framework for the main story of Ambience, as I announced in my #screenshotsaturday Tweet last week (see above). That means that now the game is finally ready to play… as long as you’re willing to play through the entire game without dying once, ignore any alternate endings, and endure sloppy placeholder text for a good two-thirds of the game.

I’m not kidding… this is how bad the placeholder text ended up.

But, through all the madness, I had a plan.

I wasn’t aiming to make a picture-perfect game straight away. Instead I wanted to start by laying the foundations for the game – the combat system, dungeon generation, and most of the cutscene actions in the main story. Only then would I start tidying it all up to make it both pretty and playable.

Why? Because I knew from the get-go – and I’m a fairly perfectionistic individual – that, no matter how much effort I put in initially, I would have to tidy up the game at the end anyway. There would still be loose threads to be connected, gameplay to re-balance, and a story line to review.

So I needed a battle plan for reviewing the game and cleaning things up. Here’s three things I’ve decided to work on as part of this plan:

1. Make a To-Do List

(Or several, if you’re like me!)

After completing the main story, I decided to go back to the very beginning and play through the game again to make sure everything was working properly. Then, as I played through the whole game for the second time, I wrote a list of any bugs that might have been absent or gone unnoticed from the previous run.

If the “bugs” or gripes were easy fixes, I went ahead and fixed them straight away. For example, one of the items on my to-do list was to add a “thud” sound effect for one of the early scenes. Since this didn’t involve very much coding or debugging at all, I knew I could implement it in about five minutes, so I went ahead and completed that item immediately. There’s not much point in procrastinating about these really easy tasks, after all.

2. Work On Your Weaknesses

A recurring theme I found in my list was the need to fix up or make new sprites for various things. This was one thing I did want to put off, since artistic stuff in general really isn’t my forte, and I didn’t want to spend too much time working on art when my main goal was to finish off the cutscenes for the main story-line.

With that finished, however, it’s time to turn my focus to making things look pretty, and that means sprites are no longer out-of-bounds items to be put off indefinitely. For example, one thing I noticed about the player and henchmen sprites was that their outfits were a little bit plain (read: single-colour!), since they hadn’t been changed at all since I had upgraded the player sprites to be more humanoid.So I went ahead and added a bit of shading to make the outfits look a bit better. It might need a tad more work later, but it’s a start:

By the way, the “work on things you’ve been putting off” principle also applies to other tasks which I’ve been putting off, mainly other weaknesses of mine. Now I finally have the opportunity to sit down and focus on those things without having too many other, more significant “to-dos” floating over my head.

3. Get Feedback!

Now that I have a semi-finished game, it’s time to get some feedback from others on various aspects of the game as I polish them up. This is actually really important when you’re developing, as it’s always better to get feedback and criticisms early on rather than receiving the same criticisms for a finished product. Some particular points of interest for me at the moment are:

  • How is the gameplay? Is it too easy, or too hard? (Often the best way to determine this is just to watch people play and see how they go.)
  • Does the writing work well, or are some parts still jarring or cliched?
  • How are the graphics? What could be improved, and how? (I’ll bet this one will merit some very lengthy answers…)
  • How do the cutscenes look? Do they suit the game’s story/graphical style?

For now I’m focusing mostly on the other two points, but I’ll definitely have some more time to focus on getting feedback in the coming weeks and months from various people I know.

One final note: it’s also kind of exciting starting out on this journey again. Part of me already knows exactly what to expect (I made this game, after all!) – but at the same time, that’s not entirely true. Ambience has come a long way since I started working on it in late 2015, and who knows what it’ll look like after this second, full play-through. Wish me luck!

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