Thursday, November 29, 2012

Simple RPG Postmortem

For the Mini-Ludum Dare#38, the Charity Game Jam, there was a theme of NES-Style games with the restricted size and palette of such a machine.  I created a simple RPG, creatively named Simple RPG. So lets have a mini-postmortem of that challenge.

What went wrong

The biggest mistake made with this challenge was going with such an ambitious project. Creating a role-playing game relatively from scratch is a huge undertaking even when you have lots of time. I suppose that if I had an existing RPG engine that I was building on, this would have been a different matter. But if I had started with an existing RPG engine (such as my Coffee Quest 4 engine) then I wouldn't be creating a game but instead would be making a mod.  Still, when I think of the NES, my thoughts immediately go to RPGs as that is the type of game I gravitate towards. Had I not have created RPGs in the past and had an extremely clear vision in my mind this project would have been a failure. As it turned out, I ended up with a playable game though one that clearly  needs balancing and more content.

The second mistake with this project was using a very early build of my GameJam library. This is a library that I am developing  for use in future GameJam competitions as I am planning on participating in GameJams frequently over the next few years. Partially because they are fun, but mostly so that I will have content for my Blazing Games site while developing some of the larger-scale games that keep being put on my back-burner. The problem with the library at this time is that it still is missing a lot of functionality, has bugs, and still hasn't had it's API locked down. Lack of any type of console support was a big issue as I ended up spending the first few hours of the competition creating a console as the RPG menus rely on console-text. The few hours lost to not having this code could have been spent on balancing the game and improving the artwork.

What went right

While the library was one of my mistakes, it was also one of the things that went right. By having a library of common game functionality, I was able to save a number of hours when it came time to creating the game maps. Ultimately, I want to get my GameJam library to the point where it has the power of the game-creator programs that are available yet still being flexible code that I have created. As it has been a long time since I have played a NES RPG, I couldn't remember if it had smooth scrolling so opted to make the map movement more chunky. Now that I think about it, I probably could have taken advantage of my smooth-scrolling maps. Still, having major functionality  readily available in a library makes rapid development much easier.

Finally, keeping the scope of the game down as much as was reasonable was a huge help.  Multiple multi-level dungeons, stores, a vast array of equipment, and side quests would have been nice to have but was unrealistic with only 48 hours of real time. By limiting the world to only 3 maps, I knew that the game was a reasonable size to finish within the short development time. Even when you have an overly-ambitious project, or rather specifically when you are biting off more than you can chew, keeping the scope of the ambition as small as you can get away with is always a good idea. After all, you can always add more content in the future if the project is successful, but when you throw away partially created material you are throwing away the time invested in that material as well.

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