Here is the post-mortem I wrote for this very firt version. Later, we have a lot iterations and published to the App store and the Windows store. I'll keep updating the progress.
What went well
- PA and BO: Our original concept was, “what do we do when laws of physics change/disappear (eg. gravity, friction,…)?” It sounds interesting but really hard for people (especially people who are not good at physics) to understand and react to. Our biggest concern was how to translate the change of physics laws and manipulate them in our game. Thinking from a player’s perspective, I suggested we change different avatars instead of changing the laws so that it's more intuitive to players. For example, transforming from an iron ball into a balloon would more intuitive than telling the player now that the ball is no longer affected by gravity. After several discussions and iterations, we simplified our design from 3 balls that can simulate 3 different physics laws to 2 balls and play with one law of physics only - gravity. It turned out to be a great success during our playtests. Players love this intuitive and unique mechanic.
- Stephen Hawking Can Play This: In the game, everything can be navigated with one button. “It's simple to understand because you only need to use the spacebar.”, said one of our playtesters. Since the goal of our game was to make a pleasant puzzle gaming experience that mainly focuses on casual gamers, this easy way of navigation turned out to be very simple and intuitive.
Organizing the time
- It was wise for us that we went home and had a nice sleep after we settled the basic mechanics and gameplay on the first night. Thanks to the previous participants’ advice, we didn’t approach it with the whole “stay awake as long as possible” attitude. It was good for our health and made our Saturday incredibly efficient. However, we didn’t sleep too long for the second night. But the work for the following day was focused on iterations and polish. What’s more, the final showcase that afternoon kept all of us awake and excited.
- Developing by testing: It’s the first time I realized how important it is to develop fast and fail fast. During the process, we tried to pick which physics law(s) were we going to manipulate. We kept asking ourselves: “What’s fun about this experience?” “What’s the goal?” “If I were a player, would I prefer A or B? Why?” “What’s the cost?” But it’s not enough to just talk on paper even though those questions did help us narrow down the choice. Some problems we couldn't foresee but we figured out from rapid prototyping and testing. That’s how we decided to choose gravity for our main mechanic. Overall, time is money, especially for this kind of 48 hour game jam and we did a nice job in balancing our time and work.
- We had very clear roles in this project and worked very efficiently with each other. Thanks to our BVW experience, our pipeline went very smoothly. We are good friends and had a very good atmosphere during work. We were brought closer together by our lack of Game Jam experience since we were all learning how to do an game jam together. We were all consistently motivated to have fun and do well on our first game jam project.
Personal design and art skills
- This was my first time trying level design and doing watercolor style digital art. Both of them were very challenging to me. I’m glad I did a fine job and I appreciate that people love them. I know I still have large shoes to fill and I’ll keep working on that!
WHAT could have done better
- We had an instruction scene that ideally taught press spacebar to start. A lot of people got the idea of using spacebar to transform, but only some of them figured out they could transform multiple times (Unless they “died” several times or we just told them). During our playtests, we found out that some of our players tried to succeed on the first space transform to floating and kept trying that without thinking about transforming again. Most of the players had no idea that they would lose if they flew out of the screen. For the new version, we mainly focused on this confusing situation for players.
- Because of time limitation, we could only make 3 levels. However, it didn’t work out perfectly as we expected. Some player “had problems with level 1, finished level 2 in a surprising manner (that did not use the bottom right loop at all), and completed level 3 on my first try by exploiting the transforming mechanic”. Another challenge was our intent for higher levels to encourage players not to press space once but toggle back and forth as needed to solve the puzzle. Only a few of the players figured that out in our third level. So fixing our difficulty curve and making it clearer to our audience is really important for our future plan.
Better planning for game jam
- We had the rough schedule at the beginning, but as things went on we found it was not practical at all and things never went as we expected so we just abandoned it. For example, we planned to use at most two hours to brainstorm and made a rough prototype the first night. However, we ended up with a basic concept from a tough session of brainstorming for the whole night and went home for sleep. For the following days we spent the majority of working time on making the game logic and creating assets. No more specific schedules but a ASAP attitude. Luckily, we got it done in time and reasonably balanced out for both work and rest. But after all this, I found it really helpful to set aside time to do some planning, instead of abandoning the plan we could simply revise it after each break. By revising it consistently, it would help us keep in scope and know when we should start iterating on game structure or bug fixing. And a better plan will let us keep track of our development process so we won’t easily forget some parts.
- Sunday afternoon we were exhausted and excited to join the showcase. However, none of us had ever planned for conducting the playtest or taking notes. Until I conducted several playtests for our semester project myself, I never realized how precious these kind of opportunities for playtesting were. Though we did a really good job at warming up our spot by encouraging and even screaming with our playtesters. That attracted a steady flow of players to try our game. However, when we tried to analysis our game based on players’ feedback, we had to recall all the memories about what excited them, what confused them and what motivated them. It’s not accurate or efficient at all. So we definitely need to treat our future playtests more carefully with better preparedness. For example, plan ahead for documentations with questions to ask and a checklist, separate roles for notetakers to observe playthrough and surprises, etc.
- We understood that the right way was to make fast and fail fast, but within 48 hours we didn’t dare to try and we had too many concerns. The more nervous we got, the harder it was for us to make decisions. That’s the main reason for our incredibly long brainstorm session. Until then, we didn’t talk about failure or losing the game but adjusted our attitude towards having fun and giving it a try. Things went much more smoothly. With more experiences like this and better preparation, I believe we can do it better in the future.