Small Board – My entry for the 38th Ludum Dare

When I first read the theme “Small World” at the theme voting, I thought in making a circular world again (just like my last LD game). However, everybody is gonna do that! So, after a 2-hours brainstorming, the 2 first hours of the competition, I came back with the game idea.

I love the aesthetics of Besieged. All levels show a small village or a small campsite merged into a white-ish background, creating a very cool mix of white emptiness and green alive. With this mixture, you have the feeling that the whole world is just that small portion of green you are seeing. I love that, and I would like to try something alike.

After deciding the aesthetics, I had the feeling that a board game would fit well in this style, where the tiles kind of merge to the background. With a board game in mind, I decided the base rules, which are based on Zombicide: multiple missions, swarm of enemies, climax during the gameplay, varying missions, etc.

All set. A board game inspired by Zombicide and Besieged.

And as usual, even before the theme voting phase, I decided that this game would have something technical that I haven’t developed before. LD#30 was behavior trees, LD#31 was flocking algorithm, LD#32 was circular world and complex behavior trees, and, finally, for this LD#38 I wanted to give more time to animations – not the animation like in sprite sheets, but the animation effects like moving a piece, spawning an enemy, changing scenes, etc…

What went right?

  1. Although the game is not very good, I could finish it, and that was the biggest achievement this time. Sure, other Ludum Dares I worked as hard as this one, but this time the schedule was very, very tight – 3 hours to end the competition I was considering giving up because it missed so many things – but I could complete the base project scope that I have decided at the beginning.
  2. There were, impressively, very few bugs during the development, even the A star algorithm I could code in minutes without any problem. Most bugs I could fix in the last hour.
  3. I could do some cool animations and developed a nice animation scheduling (see below for more details). The animations are not perfect, but they were fun to implement, in special the enemy spawn and enemy movement are very cool!

What went bad?

  1. Very, very tight schedule so that I could barely finish the base of the game. Everything went as I expected, but who wants to barely finish something?
  2. Unbalanced and not fun, again. This is the problem I find in most of my games. I dedicate so much time on the mechanics (usually a bit complex) and the visual that I don’t the time to make it good. I should probably focus that on the next game.
  3. The game provides a few visual feedbacks only, but the player don’t have much idea of what is happening within the combat, or the player can’t even track the pawn actions properly.
  4. No music or sound, but that has always been my Achilles heel.
  5. I implemented a great customization system in which I can add new pawns, enemies, tiles, maps, or event different goals very easily to the game, but I only had time to create one map. If a jam game have lots of customization and lack of content, the customization was just wast of time.
  6. Developing a board game is really hard. I expected it to be complex and take a lot of time to code the game rules, but it is really hard to change and tweak how the rules work and interact during the development. If I will ever implement a board game for a Ludum Dare again, I will keep the rules very very very very simple.

Technical details

Some details of implementation:

The board game logic is completely independent from the visual and the user interaction, which made things really easy later. When the user select an action, the game (visual) asks the board (logic) for more information and render things. When the user perform an action, the game sends it to the board, the board perform and compute everything internally and returns a list of events that occurred internally. For instance, if the user attacks an enemy, the board returns the events pawn attack, enemy defense, enemy damaged, enemy killed, etc…

This messaging system is really great for board games, in special because I wanted to animate all actions, one by one, sequentially. Each message have a different payload, which is used to update the visual object properly. You may see the messages while playing the game if the developer tools is open.

Animations are trick to do. The problem with animations is that you must wait it to finish in order to continuing the operation of the game, thus, making its operation asynchronous. However, as any asynchronous system, other things are happening while the animations are working, such as the user clicking and moving the mouse everywhere (which causes a bug on buttons, don’t know how to solve that yet). To create this system, I added a job function attached to the scene, which can create multiple jobs and run that in parallel.

The job functions receives the duration of the job, the delay to start it, an update function which will perform the animation, and a complete function which is called when the job finished. Moreover, the programmer may stop every job at any time.

At last, I just want to recommend the Affinity Designer, it is a wonderful software for vector drawing, and it save a lot of time with the automatic exporting. I used it together with the Texture Packer and a small script to make the sprite sheet. It was really efficient: I save the document; the Affinity Designer export everything to a specific folder; then I just click export sprite sheet on Texture Packer (I only have to add new sprites if I create new ones); and run the script (I have a console ready to execute it), and done.

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