Postmortem: Lost in Asterion – js13k 2017

Lost in Asterion is a game I made for the js13k 2017 contest, you can check it out here!

I decided to write one final piece of text about my first participation on the contest. I already described my journey in detail through the 19 days of development here, here and here; but I wanted to record some things earned and some lessons learned which may come in handy for other people or myself in the future

lostInAsterion2

My Story

Whenever I participate into a game jam or contest, I try to ask myself what is my motivation:

  • Learn a new language or tool
  • Create something cool
  • Win the contest prize

This was the first time I participated on the contest so I started a bit clueless, knowing not what to focus on.

Later, I set my goal on trying to create a FULL game, something that you would not believe was contained within 13 kilobytes. I was inspired by Aquaria… could I create a similar experience within the boundaries of the contest? besides the size limit, there was also the time constraint: One month of work, with very limited availability due to some other more important personal projects (it was around the release date of a human being I created). But I jumped in.

In the end, I think I succeeded on that (which is great!) but I cannot deny the results from the judges, which put the game pretty down the list, were pretty disappointing for me at first.

Screen Shot 2017-09-30 at 10.52.14 PM

Later, after giving it some thought, I understood it made sense… there were many entries this year, some of them really good, and when I created my own I didn’t even consider the judging process that was going to take place: I didn’t really aim to make a good impression on the limited time the judges have to check the entries.

Giovanny Beltrán shared some tips, and my opinion in general terms is you need something that grabs the attention of the judges in the first 5 seconds: animations, music, an inviting environment or an intriguing setting.

What went right

A huge world

I managed to create a BIG world, thanks to a couple of things: The cavern level generator which used Voronoi diagramas and Celular Automata, and the compact map format for the 2 areas with fixed maps.

I’m glad one of the jurors got to experience EXACTLY what I was going after! I wanted the players to actually try to make a map of the world, in paper, somewhere. This is why I didn’t include an automap. I followed a similar design on Stygian Abyss, with less exciting results.

A full run through the game may take over 2 hours (may be even more) if you are playing for the first time.

Breaking the pixel art mold

I created another game without using pixel art (a personal goal I’m trying to go after), instead all graphics are vector based. Everything is represented using geometric shapes: the background, the player, the enemies, even the bubble particles.

wp-image-1750981584

Atmosphere and Feel

I managed to create a believable atmosphere using the symbolic vectorial art with a color palette which worked pretty well, as well as the limited sound effects and the textual messages that made up the plot.

Greatest Challenge: The 13k barrier

It hit me REALLY hard and I had to spent a lot of time doing both technical tricks as well as design choices of what to keep and what to take out. I didn’t really expect to have to battle this hard with it since I wasn’t using any image files just to make sure I could have as much space as possible to build the world and the story, but it happened.

The main causes for this were the inclusion of the Voronoi diagrams library (used for map generation and background graphics) and jsfxr (Used for the 2 sound effects in the game).

The first one was completely necessary (no way to remove it) and very hard to reduce size other than trying to optimize the module structure and playing around with the uglifier. I put a lot of work on it with minimal effects over the package size.

As for jsfxr, there was little that could be done other than deciding whether it was worth keeping it or not. Because of the goal I set myself, I decided it had to remain, and I was gonna try to make the most out of it. (In the end I’m not sure it was worth it, since I could only keep two sounds)

Since I couldn’t do much to reduce the size of these two dependencies, I had to start optimizing my code (which was fineΩ) and cutting content (which was painful!)

What went wrong

Removed critical content

I cut some critical training / instructions as well as some interesting plot. People had trouble understanding what the “Drill” was for (and of course instinctively tried to use it to cut the rocks), and the plot was a bit too light.

Looking back at it, I think a better choice would have been removing some type of enemies, or even one of the fixed map areas.

Use the arrows, Z to drill
That’s about all the instructions given to the player

Ran out of time

This is because I didn’t have a clear idea on what to do since the beginning.

However, I’m not sure I’d say that was something bad or it could have been avoided… I think sometimes it’s ok to start with a general idea (2D cavern exploration game, vector art) and then let it evolve.

In any case, I spent a lot of time working on something that didn’t end up in the final product: The “collisions” with slopes. That was educational but would have been better invested on playtesting.

No Playtesting

Due to how the time frame ended, there was no playtesting at all. I was lucky that the game was fairly stable and I only had to submit a single patch, however I missed some details which would have been very easy to correct and could have left a better impression:

  • Scaling to use the whole viewport / going full screen
  • Removing enemies from the starting area so players could read the instructions peacefully and building a better ambient

The Future

This is not the end of the story for Lost in Asterion… I plan to make it evolve into a more complete game, keeping the core design but adding better sound effects, music, a complete plot (based on the original one which was chopped up), cutscenes, boss battles and an infinite exploration mode. More info soon!

Also, some things I want to do next year:

  • An arcade game bringing full action from first second of gameplay
  • Complete music track

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