Thursday, April 29, 2021

Building a puzzle starting from a pretty basic dig idea (Ludum Dare 48)

( I wrote this for the Ludum Dare page, then I realized I should probably post it here too. Here's the original post)

It was my first ranked Game Jam

It's been a year, I am starting to be more serious with my game designer goals so this time and a special LD # 48 seemed like a great opportunity.

Designers have various priorities with their games. In my case my top concern lately is the mechanics. My goal is to make enjoyable, interesting puzzles and I think that at the center of it is, or should be an interesting set of mechanics. Once you have the interesting mechanics, even building the levels is pretty fun to do.

Had to deal with the theme

On Friday the theme was announced: "Deeper and Deeper" . This was, in fact, one of my least favorite themes from the voting :/ Mostly because all it makes me think of is digging. And when I think digging, the first mental image I get is digging Super Mario Bros 2 - style:

I tried and I tried and this is where I kept defaulting towards. Maybe we can add rocks? Then it would be something like platforming sokoban. Except that this has been done quite a bit. It was getting late so I started coding.

Using puzzlescript

I am not good at making game graphics or sound or music. I know some code, but not video game code... I do have access to a secret weapon: puzzlescript. With Puzzlescript it's completely possible to make a game , including sprites and audio all from its editor and without having to be very good at either of them. It's puzzlescript, everything is 5x5, so your sprites don't need that much detail.

Most importantly, it helps me implement new mechanics quickly and play with them using the editor.  Figure out if they work out...

Finding the interesting thing

How about, instead of just moving the rocks , you are throwing them? And they roll. This is when I've decided to post my first preview image.




But the main mechanic is supposed to be digging. It sounds weird that digging doesn't do much, then?  What I was missing was a way to have chain reactions. That's where this idea came from, what if, after digging some earth, adjacent earth would fall down?



That's what's cool about puzzle script, you can prototype these things quickly and see how they fare when you are trying to design levels from them. I was able to notice that something still lacked. Digging is destructive. I even added a mechanic that makes rocks destroy earth when they hit it. It was so destructive that levels had a tendency to go to one direction and there was never a need for backtracking.

Added a paint of coat

But time was moving on so I also had to make the game look and feel better. My goal in the second day was to focus on that sort of stuff and make levels. Even though I wasn't really completely happy with the mechanics, still missing something...

Puzzlescript only lets you have 5x5 sprites. But there are ways to avoid making the game's looks be *too* simplistic. One of the first things I do is add borders to walls, combining multiple wall sprites into the same object. This gives them more of a body. Another thing that's really important is the color scheme. For this stuff I use a special tool called gPick, it lets you find colors and generate color variations.



It's subtle but the walls aren't of a solid color, there are some variations there, same with the sand. Gpick is also useful for finding shades.

And a shiny mechanical cherry on top

I was supposed to build more levels but I kept having issues with the directionality of the design.  I was starting to shuffle teleportation ideas. If there was a way to return to an area after destroying some sprites and falling down, then there would hopefully be more flexibility in levels. But the problem was how to add teleportation without making it too hard to code (and draw) and also without making the game sci-fi, because it's supposed to be about digging.


I settled for this gem idea. In games about digging in dungeons there's usually treasure. It's odd that the game didn't have treasure. But what if... MAGIC GEMS.



Gems expand on the second mechanic, picking things. And they also combine with the other things, they are affected by gravity, so they expand on the falling-ground mechanic. And once I had those gems, the level ideas became more exciting. It was already late in the compo, so this addition only affected 3 new levels, but it was so much fun to build them.

Please check my game out, it's in need of ratings!

If you like puzzle games where the mechanics are the priority, even above graphics and other things. Using an engine that's built for these sort of thinky game, because it has an undo button and a level skip. Then give my game a try.



 

 

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