Art Fight Post Mortem – Artistic Wholesome Warfare

While Whales and Games has been primarily a game development studio, during July and early August, we took a small detour to get into an art-oriented endeavor. Invited by a community member, Moski (that’s me, hello!), the lead artist of the team, participated in an event known as Art Fight, with the purpose of learning new techniques and push the boundaries of what Whales and Games can do at an artwork level!

The event, Art Fight, is an annual art game where people of all skill levels are split into two teams. Participants upload their original characters and “attack” the opposing team by drawing their opponent’s characters! Fighting by gifting! The more you draw, the more likely you are of receiving revenge attacks (that means, being attacked by someone you’ve attacked before)!

While this was my first Art Fight participation, I made it my goal to try something new on every piece of artwork I’d make. Be it a new style, or a new technique, I wanted to take the event as a self-improvement activity, with plans to put what was learned to work for our games and social media in the future.

‘Crab-chan’ by nyancatimusprime

Before I go into the innards of the experience, I’d like to say that everything that I created in the Art Fight was made with the free open source digital painting program Krita. I assure you I’m not sponsored or anything, but I highly recommend it to people who want a sturdy and flexible drawing tool without having to pay for it.

Other members of the team helped me through feedback, suggestions and even by animating some of my creations using the game-engine Unity using their new animation package for skeletal animation. Again, not sponsored, although that would definitely be cool.

‘Molly’ and ‘Ru’ by MDLune

Considerations About our Approach

Doing an Art Fight attack for a person I’ve never met before resulted in a lot of thoughts for me early on. Should I select characters I would like to draw, or something that would challenge me? Should I do as many attacks as possible, or take my time and make stronger drawings? What style should I use? Should I make revenge attacks, or attack people who are more likely to revenge-attack me?

While I can’t say for certain that I ended up following a set pattern, I came to some conclusions while making this search:

  • We joined the Art Fight as newcomers and strangers. If we wanted people to attack us, we needed to be known around, commenting on people and networking.
  • Early on, without any submitted drawings, people that wanted Revenge-attacks may not attack people who have not done attacks before.
  • A marketing staple – First impressions are everything. Having a nice layout helps people feel that someone is putting effort. This includes the main profile and the quality of the attacks being submitted.
  • I donated enough to get access to modifying the CSS of my profile, giving it a better appearance that was in-line with what we normally use for our Whales And Games branding. 

While I grew up enjoying drawing lots and lots of characters, I decided to go with a quality-over-quantity approach. On average, I’d say that I ended up dedicating a day-worth or more to each drawing. Some took less time, and others took far more. It mostly had to do with the styles and experiments done on each work.

Technical Art Insights

You may ask, though, what kind of experiments did I do? If you’ve seen my work across Whales and Games’ social media (namely on our Twitter and Facebook), you’ve probably known me for drawing cartoonish-esque characters with a cell-shaded style, this means, there’s a very strong distinction between colors and shadows- consisting of one set of shadows and one set of highlights – instead of a smooth blending..

Credits from left to right:
‘Madoc’ by Wilderness, ‘Goo’ by mot-bot, ‘Pratlene’ by Prate-Dragon and ‘Lottie’ by Moontastic

While that still was visible in many of my attacks, some of my new tests during the event were as follows:

  • Airbrush Overlays – Digital art requires the very least a minimum of organization. By grouping the colors or even the lineart with them, there are ways to help colors pop. A simple-yet-effective way to give colored drawings a more vivid aspect was to add black and white airbrush overlays, giving the picture some light effects. However, these can disturb the background, or even other elements if not used carefully. Fortunately, Krita had something for the occasion.
  • Grouped Inherit Alpha Property – When making game assets, I had to learn a non-destructive way to make things that can be easily recolored and shaded, and I ended up using that methodology in a lot of my attacks. One of Krita’s layer properties is called Inherit Alpha, which makes the opaque content of a layer only visible where there’s opaque content in layers below that one. Applied inside groups, that allows for things like the airbrush overlays to only be displayed within the group, preserving the edges and avoiding getting in the way of the background and other objects.
  • Brush Patterns – Half-tones (usually displayed as circles of varying sizes) are a popular technique usually given to make something look retro or stylish. While they can be used as fills, Krita also allows to use them on brushes, and to modify their behavior, up to a point. This applies to other patterns as well, but, as far as I could find out, Krita is somewhat limited on them, and getting a consistent, predictable use of them is nigh impossible within the program.
  • Layer StylesPhotoshop has styles that allow for strokes, drop shadows, satins, bevels and what not. It turned out that Krita also has some of them. They’re more clunky than in Photoshop, and they seem to amp up the resources to manage the program, but it’s good to know what there’s non-destructive methods to achieve some popular effects.

Numerical Results

The numbers aren’t everything, since this event was made to help artists connect with each other, have them practice by making them draw new characters and have an overall fun time.

That is still the case here, but because of our aggressive approach to networking and the mentality of doing quality art over quantity, I think some numbers are still worth evaluating.

  • During the event, I made 26 drawings. While the plan was to make at least one daily, sometimes I managed to make more, but situations around made it more manageable to take a slower pace than trying to crunch that much work.
  • We received 57 attacks, of which I managed to make a revenge of 12. We couldn’t have foreseen we’d get this much attention, and we’re extremely thrilled and grateful for them all! Some were also the result of attacks we did, so I’d say that the system is working as intended. We’ll be trying to answer back to all the attacks we’ve got in the next edition of the event, we hope!
  • During the event, as a result of commenting, networking, and keeping people on our tracks, we got 400 followers. That’s roughly one attack for every 8 followers!
  • I only did one friendly fire, attacking one person of our own team. It was a revenge attack. I wanted to avoid doing friendly fire attacks in the spirit of the event, but I did want to respond to some of the ones I got. Sadly, I ran out of time, and that’s as much as I could do.
  • I submitted 12 characters from the Whales and Games universe namely our mascots and Whipped and Steamy characters due to it being some of our most character-oriented designs. The 57 attacks we received were scattered among them unevenly. Worth noting, Whalechan received 12. Buns Buns got 15. Jazzy and Bluessom appeared together (meaning both characters were accounted for) in 3 different pieces. Only Princess Dom. went back to her kingdom with no attacks.  
Credits from left to right and top to bottom:
‘Mr. Woofman’ by KiRAWRa, ‘Whalechan’ by Bright, ‘Jazzy and Bluessom’ by MDLune, ‘Glade’ by Xneovaii, ‘Cheqmate’ by UncleCucky, ‘Caffie’ by Tofumeat, ‘Buns Buns’ by PicoSheep and ‘Cheqmate, Monetizationman and Bootybeard’ by HeroicOutlaw.

Artistic Feelings

Now, for some, that might have been some very-specific artist gibberish and marketing boogaloo. But other than techniques and tools, art is also about feelings. And these past few weeks of working almost daily for hours to end have made me evaluate a lot of things about how I feel towards art.

‘Kotie’ by Glittermilk

Being able to work with many characters and many styles made me think back on the words that some of our other team members told me once. I don’t have “one style”, but rather, my “style” is still evolving, and encompassing adaptability. Adjusting to different things, instead of just drawing always in the same style with predictable characteristics. Be it soft or intense, fluffy or muscular, cute or monstrous, and the in-betweens, I always found enjoyment in what I was doing. There were some hiccups, but I’m pleased with my performance on my 26 attacks.

Working with so many new characters revitalized my love for character design as well. While I’ve been proud of my cartoonish style, I’ve had a chance to draw cute, sexy, horror, weird, and more, with varying degrees of realism or cartoonishness. I got so excited by making characters that I even sketched a bunch that I didn’t have the time to finish. Hopefully next year!

But drawing this much for so long also had some… adverse effects. Little moving around, lots of time sitting down, just drawing and drawing, nothing of that did wonders to my body. I felt a lot of fatigue at times, somewhat cranky, and I devoted so much time to doing artwork that I had little time for hobbies like gaming or going out with my friends. I got so engrossed in making artwork that almost nothing outside of it mattered for a month.

Trying to get as many attacks as possible, I continued to double, triple, quadruple and quintuple guess if I was doing things right. Was it better to spend more time in a single attack to make it the best it could be, improving as an artist? Or should I cut my losses after a while and submit something that was good enough? Should I spend more time commenting and getting to know my fellow artists, or more time doing actual drawings? The looming feeling of “I’m doing X when I should be doing Y”. Like a thought that someone has said to me before, “it’s the opposite of an art block. It’s an art overwhelm, being incapable of doing a thing because you have so many possibilities”.

While there were more frustrations as results of ongoing life affairs and some failed techniques, overall, I believe that I’ve evolved as a person and as an artist like never before. I’ve learned new techniques, how to use other tools, my workflow has been reshaped, and I ultimately feel reinvigorated, with high hopes of doing for my team what I’ve been doing for the Art Fight participants! More colors, more details, more flexibility!

Final Remarks

Credits from left to right:
‘Penny’ by UncleCucky, ‘Olé’ by KiRAWRa, ‘Lisbeth’ by Royalspaghetti, and ‘Yuki’ by Crazyie

Do you want to know what’s the main takeaway of the Art Fight experience? Well, if you open up a fortune cookie that reads “Practice makes perfect”, I’d say that’s the one generic statement you should keep close to heart. While it can be arduous and even seem like an impossibly steep climb, there’s no other way around it. It doesn’t really matter if you’re entry level or an expert, there’s always practice to do and things to learn. I’ve swallowed my artist pride more times than I can count, forcing me to think that I can still do more, and so far, I do feel it’s doing wonders.

On the Whales and Games front, I’ll be trying some of the new things I learned, trying to give as much care to our own characters as I did for the characters of other people during the event. The plans include a few updated designs, managing colors and palettes in a more organized fashion, and being thorough with our logos and overall branding image. Just you wait. Moski and the Whales And Games team are going to impress the socks off you!

I guess that wraps it up, nice and tidy. Am I going to be there for next year’s Art Fight? Most likely, unless my life has some massive shift. Even then, I’m willing to find time to do some attacks even if it’s far less time. Drawing is a thing that fills me with good vibes and positivity, and I’d highly recommend any fellow creatives – new or experts – to live up to the Art Fight challenge. May we meet on the battlefield, and look forward to what we at WAG have to offer! 🐳

Super Sellout Post Mortem – A Bargain Bin of Information!

Ludum Dare 43 is about to wrap up, along with year! Get cosy, comfy and cuddled up. And while the clock’s a-ticking, take a chance to rate some of the games in the danger zone. A few votes can make the whole difference and get people pumped up to receive the new year.

As we leave the year behind and as the jam ends, as per tradition, we’ve got our largest piece of insight with the post-mortem of our very own superhero themed runner Super Sellout! Sit back and relax, as we take you through our journey to sacrifice integrity for the sake of profit!

Super Sellout is a high-score based runner game where, at the start of the game, the player gets to select as many sponsors as they want. While in game, the playable character has to jump from building to building, as to avoid falling in any gaps in-between, all-in-all while interacting with people who need rescuing as to get a higher score and extra time as to continue saving people and ranking sponsor money.

Each sponsor selected at the beginning of a game affects the playthrough in a variety of ways, such as by adding obstacles, slowing down the player or distorting the screen. Sponsors, however, also add score multipliers, forcing the player to sacrifice mobility for a chance at a higher score. Or, as we like to call it, sacrificing integrity for profit!

As a variation to our previous team structures, one of the goals for this edition of the game jam was to perform an exercise with as many team members of the Whales And Games group as possible. Instead of relying on our old tested formula of only having three team members, all with different roles, we instead wanted to brute-test our synergy as a full team and understand how having more than one person in the same role would affect our workflow.

That being said, our formation ended up involving five out of the six members of the Whales And Games team, being structured as following:

  • Moski was, again, the game’s artist, handling all the assets and the graphical direction.
  • Jorge took his role once again as a programmer, after having skipped the last Ludum Dare edition the team participated on.
  • Kroltan reprised his role as a programmer as well, making it their second jam together with the WAG team.
  • Zak joined us once again as the audio’s composer and handled the different music and sound effect tracks for the game.
  • Poncho aided us with overall support, aiding us when necessary, such as in adding more level variations and improving in-game animations.

Tools Used

Super Sellout, in similarity to its predecessors, was also created and developed with the field-tested trusty tools and programs that the Whales And Games team uses in day-to-day development. Some of these programs, in case of the engine and programming side, also utilize plugins in order to smooth-out rough corners in development. The list is quite extensive and is as following:

  • Unity, returns once again as our engine of choice. This time around we decided to use the 2018.3 beta (which has since been released as a stable version) as we wanted to learn and utilize the newly added nested prefabs workflows in a real development scenario for the first time.
  • Rewired, a Unity editor extension that considerably improves Unity’s input systems and management by allowing actions to be easily binded to a variety of input methods, including game-pads, out of the box.
  • Visual Studio, the generation-long development environment, for writing all of the game’s programming.
  • ReSharper, Kroltan’s favorite Visual Studio extension that aids in a multitude of programming tasks, most notably refactoring code. In his words, its “Visual Studio’s equivalent of Word’s Clippy.”
  • Git, for hosting and sharing the project files between the various team members and allowing for easy version control. It gets its own mention in this command list because Kroltan is hipster enough to use only raw Git Command Line.
  • SourceTree and GitKraken, two different graphical interfaces for Git used depending on each team member’s preference. They make managing commits and performing commit merges an easy-peasy task.
  • Krita, the open-source and free-to-use digital art program, used for creating and designing all of the game’s art assets and handsome chins.
  • FL-Studio, for handling sound and audio composition and editing. For most of the team members other than the audio composer, the actual way to handle this program is a mystery to them.
  • Google Office Suite, which is likely the most standard and less-beefy tech of this tool list, but yet, our team has a lot to thank for it given how much we use Docs and Drive day-to-day. In fact, this whole post-mortem was written in co-op using Docs!

In addition to these existing tools, we also experimented on using our internal Whales And Games toolset, Shipyard, during the development of the jam. These include a variety of different utilities that aid us with mostly the deployment of the game, such as being able to build and upload multiple game versions directly to itch.io directly from the Unity editor, as well as pre-setup site-locking systems for the web versions (which were re-hosted on unauthorized sites almost immediately after the game went up). We are planning to release this toolchain as an open-source package at a later date.

Game Idea and Design

As a team of five, we wanted to approach brainstorming in a way where everyone could pitch in, discuss their ideas, and then opt for the best ones to implement into a game. When the theme of Sacrifice was announced, we made a document – visible to all of us – and started writing our ideas on different pages. After all of us felt we had a decent dosage of ideas down, we started to discuss them pretty much one by one.

Oddly enough, we ended up going with a Superhero theme despite it not having been originally suggested or written by anyone in the brainstorming document. There were some ideas of the likes of “save someone over another one” (including one where it’d involve Animal Crossing-esque animals), but we also expected a lot of the entries to be serious and outright macabre. As such we opted for a more light-hearted setting, with vibrant colours and funny characters.

When we settled with the superhero setting, we spent some-time testing implementations, attempting to create a cohesive design. We needed to think of how gameplay, art direction and audio would all tie together. Some of the early aspects of the game involved a hero with an extremely big chin, rescuing grandmas from a tree on a park and jumping over fences, as well as the overall idea of “sacrificing mobility for more rewards”.

After going back and forth with more ideas, we ended up with a similar yet practically different concept. A timed runner that took place over rooftops, where the player would be incentivized to make the game harder for themselves in exchange for the chance at a higher score.

The Best Parts of Development

Early Playtesting and Feedback Involvement

As part of an ongoing effort to improve the quality of our games and making sure we tackle the most important issues of their design, a few months prior to the jam, we set up a community programme seeking for community playtesters to join us and give us feedback about certain points we could improve on our projects to ensure they feel tighter and more rewarding.

One of the aspects we always found lacking in our previous jams was the lack of practical feedback during the development of the game that we could immediately sort out and improve on the moment. While feedback during the judging phase is helpful to figure out aspects that we could improve in the game at a later point, feedback from playtesters during the jam allow us to improve situations and work on issues that would certainly be deteriorating for first impressions of the game during its judging phase, where the game is exposed to the majority of players that will play it during its lifetime.

Thanks to our playtesters, we were able to iron out several aspects of Super Sellout that needed refinement. Some of these tweaks, obtained through their feedback, included communicating what the different sponsors do during the sponsor selection screen, improving the overall readability of menus, and making the impact of certain hazards and sound cues more clear and noticeable to the player.

We also need to take this occasion to thank our existing community playtesters for all the feedback and helping us making the game better!

Team Preparation and Project Control

Since Ludum Dare is an event with very limited time, it’s necessary to find ways to save it during the actual event and during the game’s development. While the actual labour division was not exactly perfect, the preparation of the team and the way we’ve got our tools sorted out prior to the jam allowed each team member to quickly jump into development and catch-up at any time.

Previous methods of project collaboration involved each of the roles sending their files back and forth, working separately and leaving the task to the programmer to combine all of the files alone. While this may have worked in the past with smaller projects and teams, it was not efficient.

Starting with Jazzy Beats last year and carrying it on to future editions, the non-technical team members have been practicing working on Unity, while at the same time getting the hang of committing, pushing and pulling their own project updates, allowing every individual team member to work in almost real-time on the project. Through enough coordination, the process of making and receiving files, giving feedback and tweaking on the go has speed up significantly, and each member has been learning more and more about how to bridge their work with the others.

In addition to standard Git management, there’s also other workflows that we’ve already long embedded into our team, including using Discord to voice chat during the jam and using the aforementioned Google Office Suite for sharing brainstorming and design documents. Finally, there’s also the previously mentioned Shipyard toolchain that has been in-development in parallel with another project of ours that we’re developing an update for, and which proved to be a crucial helper during the game’s deployment.

What Experience and Feedback Taught Us

Team Management and Labour Structure

Like with all of our previous jam entries, our team was divided into the usual roles of programmers, artists and audio composers. While that was all great in theory, the actual practice made it clear that the lines of what each had to do ended up being blurrier than what they originally seemed to be. The programmers had their own styles and methods to approach situations which sometimes lead to stun-locks at times where another programmer was unable to continue their task as it depended on another programmer’s tasks. On the other hand, there were some ideas about design and art were sometimes not properly communicated or discussed beforehand.

One situation where we ended up feeling this the most was during the early phases of brainstorming, where we spent several hours throwing several ideas and concepts attempting to find an idea that everyone was comfortable to begin development with. Unfortunately, because this was a larger team, this led to an never-ending loop of conversation trying to figure out where we were headed. In the end, we went with an idea that was not in the list of anyone, but rather, was made on the spot.

However, even with an established idea, we were too quick to judge it, and with some programmers starting their day earlier than others, it became apparent that the tasks and mechanics that need to be added in weren’t properly made clear between team members, with several gaps of the original idea not filled in with clear mechanics.

One way to improve this aspect in a future edition of the jam would be to clearly elect one or more team members to hold the role of game designers and making sure the whole systematic design of the game is done in advance, or, alternatively, to only allow each team member to pitch-in a limited set of ideas and then refine those until proper systems are achieved.

Not having proper mechanics written down also lead to initiative-related problems, where a team member, unknowing of the tasks that needed to be achieved next, would experiment with different implementations, leading to some conflicts in terms of coding and even overlapping tasks.

The Usual Scope and Unexplored Mechanics Issue

Although we might have been able to make the game seem like it features a multitude of sponsors due to the different modifiers that provide similar situations, one point that several jammers have featured in their feedback was the how the sponsor selection felt lacking in regard to the different modifiers that can be equipped.

In our original game design ideas for the game, there were several concepts for sponsors that weren’t able to make the cut into the game, including sponsors that would invert the player’s controls, add more overlays on top of the game, between many others that unfortunately met the cutting room floor, as described in an earlier development insight.

While it has certainly became an internal joke given that all of our post-mortems mention this one issue in our games, it is one that is likely bound to repeat itself every time we experiment with a different genre or try a different team setup. Trying a new genre whilst trying to achieve the same polish that the team always aims for has proven to be a tough challenge, and normally results in the actual juice of the game to feel underwhelming as we try to figure out what makes those games enjoyable.

However, experimenting with different genres isn’t really a passable excuse. Instead, getting the scope and mechanics right is something that we will keep training as we continue to develop games (and update them, given the chance). In this jam, we have underestimated the time that it’d take to develop the different systems for the different mechanics, both due the given work stack, as well as a result of labour structure issues mentioned in the previous points.

Given the status of our previous entries that got updated or refined designs, it’s possible that all our entries will only really meet their full potential when given a second look, when more feedback has been taken into consideration, and when the development of the systems has reached a point where we are comfortable and fast in iterating them. We hope to get the chance in a future jam to tackle a simpler design we can get more mechanics into.

Closing Remarks. What Could we Improve on?

Despite the fact that Super Sellout had a rocky development at time, it was still very well received by both the Ludum Dare and Whales And Games communities. However, for us internally as a team, it taught us several lessons that we must take attention too when developing our next projects, most notably, when it comes to team management and working with larger teams.

Like previous team exercises, there are several takeaways and lessons we can make from our overall experience during the jam, that we’ll be taking into consideration not only on future editions, but that we hope are also useful and for the benefit of other jammers:

  • While it appears obvious, it needs to be clear at all times that, for proper teamwork, there needs to be a lot more communication. For synergy, initiative, coordination and progress, asking doubts when they arise and achieving agreements when situations arise will keep it all knit together.
  • Although it is a good idea to hear what everyone has to say, when working with bigger teams, it might be necessary to assign one or two people to design the core of the game with the rest of the people working to fill-in any gaps or missing pieces.
  • There’s a time and place for everything. Ludum Dare is a fantastic opportunity to learn and experiment, but the time is also a great constrain if your objective is to learn stuff from scratch. Learning the skills should be better done at one’s leisure.
  • Preparing to work on a project may be as important as actually developing the project. Get the team to set realistic expectations, talk beforehand about the tools of the trade, the limits of the responsibilities, and set up working times. This last bit is especially important when working with international teams.
  • Do not panic. Odds are that things will break down. Keep your cool, and even consider sacrificing scope for the sake of fixing things. Good polish can compensate for having a lot of fun mechanics that crash or bug out half of the time.
  • If you’re participating with a team, make sure that the workflows and file sharing are setup and that all of the members are able to quickly access project files and all the information that is needed. This builds up team independence and allows the different members to implement the parts of the project they’re responsible for.

Beyond the actual lessons of development, we have also received several cues of feedback about how we could improve the game if we were to pick on it again and iterate on it. Some of the things we could think off to improve include the following:

  • Introduce new sponsors and reuse some of the ideas that stayed on the cutting room floor as to introduce more diversity to the game through new sponsors that would behave considerably different from the existing ones.
  • Reconsider the way movement is handled on the game and make it more responsive and tighter to the player. The main aspect that needs to be refined is the player’s jumping, making it feel more responsive, less floaty, and improve its collisions with the rest of the game elements.
  • Balance and improve the game’s scrolling, making it so that the latter half of the run doesn’t feel like a punishment to the player, and that they are able to stay at the centre of the screen most of the time despite the increasing screen velocity.
  • Introduce additional keyboard controls, as some players would have certainly preferred an Arrow and ZX key combo rather than the existing WASD and F key setup. Additionally, potentially introduce more keys to perform the same actions in the same set, so the E key could also be used in alternative to F while using WASD controls.
  • Include more visual diversity in terms of the scenery. Like pointed out earlier, several assets were created expecting a park-like setting, which lead to concepts such as grassy-rooftops. While not necessarily out of the realm of the Whaleverse, it’d be interesting to include different types of architecture.

What’s next?

While we still don’t have any specific plans to develop or create a new content update for the game as it is, we are planning to start an internal programme next year focused on revisiting and updating some of our older games, namely Ludum Dare entries that haven’t really gotten much attention outside of the time-frame they were developed at. Given that we will be deciding which entries to update based on public voting, there’s a likelihood that Super Sellout will be revisited sooner than we expected!

We also want to start working towards longer-term projects with the turn of the year focusing on delivering games that can easily be iterated on with regular content and meant for expansion over time. We are planning to work on one of these projects starting early next year and we think that it’s going to be a doozy!

And that pretty much wraps everything up, doesn’t it? Super SelloutLudum Dare 43 and even the freakin’ year, comrades. 2018 surely went fast, and the next year seems oh so very bright. If you want to sail with us on 2019, you’re welcome to board our Discord Server or if you prefer somewhere more quiet, on Twitter! And hang tight, because as you’ve read earlier, we’re planning on going places!

Get the kazoos, heat the chocolate, wear your best suit, and toast! For a new and bigger year for game development! ??

Whale of a Retrospective! Whales And Games History through Ludum Dares!

With the end of the year coming up, television and news sites are flooding with yearly retrospectives and the most marking events of the year, highlighting both the positives and negatives of the past months and what’s bound to be remember of this year for history.

With the end of judging for this Ludum Dare coming up, we thought to do something similar, only instead of it being just about the year, we’re looking at the history of our past Ludum Dare entries from our latest game Super Sellout all the way back to Colossorama! Sit comfortably on your chair (unless you have a standing desk in which case just stand there) and prepare for the history of our Whales And Games team through Ludum Dare editions, how it shaped us, and what we learned from each edition respectively! Leggo! ??

Ludum Dare 36 – Colossorama

If there’s a game that we have to thank for and which was the reason why our team exists nowdays, it is Colossorama. Created for Ludum Dare 36 (August 2016)Colossorama was a simple hack-and-slash sidescroller where you were forced to swap weapons every round to defeat as many enemies as you can while attempting to stay alive on your own.

Colossorama broke what was essentially a two-year-long creative-block towards games for me and Moski, and has since evolved tremendously receiving multiple updates since it’s original debut, being showcased in multiple events, and even gaining a following of its own. In fact, a third major expansion to it is planned to come out early next year, and we are already looking at some other plans we have ready in-mind for beyond that!

Ludum Dare 37 – Hyper Holomayhem

While we ocassionaly make the joke that it’s the game that should not-be-mentioned, Hyper Holomayhem taught us some hard lessons regarding how we should tackle future Ludum Dare editions after Ludum Dare 37 (December 2016). In essence, the game was also a side-scroller free-roaming shooter, where you’d have to tear-away levels by shooting at it’s tiles in order to collect gears that would power the room and regenerate again.

The game, while it obtained good judging scores, taught us a few things regarding how we should tackle scope and design decisions. Always make sure you come up with a pre-set idea as you come out of the brainstorming phase and make sure mechanics are well established so they can be quickly ironed out and improved during the jamming time. Unfortunately, there’s still some one or two-offs where we fall on the same trappings, but overall, it taught us a lot about how to handle things going forward.

Ludum Dare 38 – Petty Puny Planet

With the hard-swallowed lessons from Hyper Holomayhem, our next entry, Petty Puny Planet for Ludum Dare 38 (April 2017) was a complete turnaround of what had happened during the previous game’s development, and, in the opinion of many of our team, might be our best take-away from Ludum Dare so far. Petty Puny Planet was a pick-your-own-adventure type of game where you’d pick different actions to determine a planet’s development, and be faced with random-consequence events that could undermine (or be undermined by) your previous choices.

Rather than teaching us harsh-lessons, Petty Puny Planet instead served as a confirmation of many things we had done right this time around. Keep the scope conformable and well-defined, allowing you to focus immediately on what’s important and establish mock-ups and mechanics so that the rest of the team is able to immediately know where the game is headed. Samurai Jack was also airing at the time, which probably helped the team mood a lot.

It’s also noteworthy that Ludum Dare 38 was the point we officially founded our team under the name Whales And Games which we’ve been using since! ?

Ludum Dare 39 – JouleThief: Charge Your Phone

JouleThief: Charge Your Phone is an odd-one-out when it comes to this retrospective, being the only game in this list that wasn’t originally planned as a Whales And Games title. Rather, the game was originally developed during Ludum Dare 39 (August 2017) as an attempt for Moski to work with a different team while other members of WAG were busy at the time. Taking the role as Joulethief, you’d go around attempting to charge your phone as much as possible while avoiding guards attempting to arrest you for disturbance.

The game noticeably has it’s own noticeable quirks, utilizing 3D physics in a 2D game and even featuring an unfinished level editor. Later on, Kroltan, the game’s programmer, would end up joining the Whales And Games team and has since collaborated with us on two other projects featured on this retrospective. After some recent internal talks, we have finally decided to crown JouleThief as being an official part of the Whales And Games collection and hope for one day to be able to put the game on the limelight it deserves!

Ludum Dare 40 – Jazzy Beats

Following the momentum and good spirits of the original team preserved since Petty Puny Planet, the next game to come out of the team would be Jazzy Beats, an indirect beat-em-up where you brawl against an opposing idol’s fans to convert them to your own, created during Ludum Dare 40 (December 2017).

The game extended on the lessons learned through a Petty Puny Planet, continuing on with the trend of defining the games vision right on the first hours, increasing the project’s scope to involve more mechanics, and allowing team members to experiment and implement their part directly on top of the project files (while previously, all the project setup on the engine side was made by the programmer).

Jazzy Beats was also noticeably our best performance in a judging phase as of yet, both in terms of how many games we’ve rated as well as how many ratings we have received. It has since become our staple goal of what we want to achieve with each consequent judging phase and edition.

Ludum Dare 41 – Wizsnooks

With a new Whales And Games setup and the core team growing, the torch started being passed around the different team members depending on the occasion and availability of the team. The first project to test having different team members on the lead instead of the usual suspects happened with Wizsnooks during Ludum Dare 41 (April 2018). Mixing two incompatible genres, Wizsnooks was pool meets RPG, creating a pool game where you’d have to defeat enemies either using your gear or pushing them into pits.

Wizsnooks turned out to be a nice revelation, being surprisingly innovative with its mechanics mixing both the genres, making it one of the games we have considered giving a revamp too for the longest time, especially considered the different ways the game could be expanded. Overall, it served as a perfect example of the capability of the team to adapt to different team setups and how they can affect the ideas behind a specific game.

However, it still followed the typical three-people team formula we had been using during the previous jams, and that was something we wanted to break with the next edition.

Ludum Dare 43 – Super Sellout

After skipping Ludum Dare 42 as a team (not so much for Moski which had a catastrophic experience instead) we finally reach the current live edition with Super Sellout being developed for the current Ludum Dare 43Super Selloutpitches a runner-game with having to sacrifice mobility and visibility by choosing sponsors as to achieve an higher highscore.

Super Sellout‘s development was somewhat similar to the development of Hyper Holomayhem, with it’s own sets of ups and downs, but at the same time, it was somewhat expected in advance. The jam was the first time we experimented with having most of the team (that’s five out of six people) in a single jam, rather than going with usual three-people model. In essence, it was a team exercise, and we have certainly gotten some good pointers about how to manage future editions and projects when they involve more people than usual.

While we could go into more detail regarding the lessons we learned, we still have our usual post-mortem coming up in the following days detailing both what went right and what feedback and experiment taught us.

And that wraps it up! While the judging of Super Sellout is still going on, it’s always a nice lesson to go back and retrospect through our history as a team and jammers, realizing the different lessons we learned throughout the different editions. We believe that the next jams will continue evolving us as a team as we tackle different genres and experiment with different ideas and as we keep refining our formula and identity.​ ?

As the year comes to a close, we have a bunch of new ideas and experiments we want to make, but we’re yet to see how our team evolves. From adopting a new roadmap, to attempting to build a more complete experience, we’re sure the time between this and the next edition of Ludum Dare is going to be surprising. It’s quite sad to see the event reduced to only two editions a year, but we’ve already got our scopes sighted for other events we’d love to join!

If you’d like to keep up and join us in the wild ride the next year is going to be, we totally recommend you to follow us on Twitter and join us on Discord where we’ve got an active community of developers, artists and even just traditional gaming peps. You’re also obviously free to share your Ludum Dare games over there! ?

Fun Time with Fun Facts of Super Sellout. For Fun!

Hey you. Yes you. I see you browsing the Ludum Dare front page looking for treasure. We’ve got goods in the form of fun facts of our sponsored-fueled avarice marathon of a game, Super Sellout.

Stick around, for this ought to be interesting, and insight about how a team of five can somehow crunch a game in 72-hours while barely clinging to anything that loosely resembles a spec of sanity. Here we go!

Chin-Scratching Inspirations

After our long back-and-forth brainstorming session we settled on a superhero theme. As such, we wanted a protagonist that looked heroic but somewhat goofy in line of our previous characters. Our inspirations, for an early concept, included Crimson Chin from Fairly Odd Parents and Captain Qwark from Ratchet & Clank.

We didn’t truly like the cyan colored suit for the protagonist, so we kinda took Crimson Chin as an inspiration, making him red and black. However, we also gave it a logo of a white triangle on the chest. Since someone jokingly said he looked like a YouTube inspired hero, we ended up calling him Monetization Man, the hero who “demonetizes crime”.

Grandmas? On trees? On my rooftop? More likely than you think!

Early in development, Moski made grass assets for walking around, fire hydrants and an old lady stuck on a tree. However, since the programmers thought a runner-type game would benefit from jumping, the park got replaced for rooftops, inspired by another piece of trivia in this post. That’s how we got stuck with grandmas stuck on trees stuck on rooftops.

At that point, we threw common sense out of the window (like we normally do as a team) and added dogs, a bunny-suited bunny-girl and a lot of ice cream, beyond the added-in cosmetics that Monetization Man gets when different sponsors are equipped.

Incredibly Paper Inspired

While we were discussing the superhero thematics and were starting to turn the game into a runner, one piece of oddware that was brought up as an inspiration was The Incredibles (yes, the animated picture) video game adaptation for the Gameboy Advance.

While the theming and actions you can perform in that game are vastly different from the ones you can perform in Super Sellout, the game did provide some inspiration as to how to tackle the gameplay perspective and ultimately, how we should design and implement the different rooftops.

And of course, two looks at the game’s style, remove half of the halftone we put on top of everything and you can also see some direct inspirations for the comic-book art style not only from comic books themselves but also from the likes of Paper Mario, with the characters outline with the white outlines and soft shading.

Overbearing Whales And Games References and Internal Jokes

If we were able to give teams human traits, then our team at Whales And Games would be guilty of not having any self-awareness at all. In similar fashion to our previous projects, we cramped our game full of internal jokes and references. Of course, we don’t think anyone will really be able to name them all, but we keep putting those jokes in for self-amusement. Guess we’re the true super sellouts in the end, eh? ?

As an example, Dapperfish is a recurrent character in our games and conversations. You can see a muggler with a Dapperfish mask, and he even appears in his own panel in the main menu. You can even click on him there for a goofy surprise. ?

Of course, the self-referential fun doesn’t end there either as there’s plenty of other situations where we took the opportunity and cramped even more self-love into it!

  • On the main menu, beyond Dapperfish in his own tile, there’s also Whalechan, one of our main mascots, in the credits panel.
  • All of the billboards you can find when you activate the Whales And Games modifier, are as expected, mostly Whales And Games references, including three of them to previous Ludum Dare projects, Colossorama (namely how the 1.3 update has been in development for a while), Petty Puny Planet and Jazzy Beats.
  • Other billboards also have other miscellaneous references, with Maid Dragon parodies and Egg.
  • While you might think that Rob Boss is simply a direct reference to Bob Ross, they have actually appeared in Colossorama, as a playable character. We decided to throw in a reference to the character in Super Sellout as we thought it’d make for an interesting sponsor.
  • And last but not least, there’s also a sticker in reference of Wool Pit which despite not being a Whales And Games project, was Moski’s saving grace from whatever happened during Ludum Dare 42.

A Design as Crazy as a Goat

When the “Sacrifice” theme was announced, each member of the team brainstormed ideas for what to make the game about. And we brainstormed a lot. One of the most popular ideas among us was to make the game about a dating game show, where contestants would get sacrificed if they were not selected for a date.

While that idea never came to be, one of the things that remained as a left over was having a sick goat with a sick goatee as the host, which we later wanted to repurpose to serve as a sort of tutorial for the players in Super Sellout and even interrupt the player based on some sponsors.

Unfortunately, wiring out text-systems into the game were quickly ruled as being too out of scope for the time we had in the jam, and instead we kept the goat as one of the rescuers as a callback to our original idea. Mayhaps the day will still come where he will actually get to be the host.

And that’s your fun time fun facts trivia of today for Super Sellout! We always have a stupid amount of fun working on our games despite the occasional hiccup that happens here and there. In fact, we actually left our development text and voice channels for the game completely open for public-reading over at our at our team’s Discord server!. We’d love to see you (and your games) there!

If you haven’t tried Super Sellout yet, we’d love for you to give it a try and tell us what you think!. We’re still going around and playing as many as we can, and would love to check yours out! Make sure to share it with us, and we’ll get to them first opportunity! Cheers! ?

Super Sellout’s Art Asset Sweatshop

Hey there, fellow whippersnappers. It’s a Whales and Games tradition to share our game development perspective. And, as I’ve done a few times in the past, I’ll be giving y’all some good old insight about the artwork done for our Ludum Dare 43 game. This time, for our not-really-endless and very-slightly-on-theme superhero runner Super Sellout!

Almost every single pixel you see on the screen that’s not text was made with Krita, which is a free open-source digital painting program. If you want to get into asset making, even if it’s pixel art, I recommend it. Just download it, get a $40-$80 tablet, read a few tutorials, and you’re ready to go.

So, with Krita and a tablet, I was able to make spritesheets for pretty much everything. The main character, the people in need, the background, UI, and even the logo. Almost everything starts with a sketch, then lining up, coloring, adding details, arranging, and saving as a backgroundless PNG, to be imported in Unity.

Did I do anything special this time around? Other than trying a different style, not really. Our previous projects, like Petty Puny PlanetJazzy Beats and Wizsnooks, had a very similar workflow. It all starts with some sketches, then making their respective lineart, coloring, shading, and adding final touches.

Granted, actually making in-depth animations could have taken too long, so we took a lot of shortcuts. I’d like to talk some other day about the design and looks, but long story short, we opted for some paper-cut-out style so that we could justify having so few frames, and thus, allow me to make more content in other places. That’s why we’ve got so many people to rescue, different buildings, menus and what not. In a way, you could say I sacrificed some things in one area to add to others.

Krita, the digital painting program, excels at that, painting, but doesn’t mean that it can’t be used for gamedev assets. Heck, I used it for pixel art for Ludum Dare 36 and 37, and I’m pretty sure that people more talented than me could even make vectors or some impressive stuff. At least on my level, it works to create PNG files that can be easily used in Unity by the rest of the team. That includes the characters, UI elements and even the logo.

Gamejams are a very hectic experience, and it’s extremely hard to juggle between designing, programming, making art, music, playtesting, polishing and delivering. If I was able to make artwork that’s easily recognizable, it’s only because the Whales and Games team were hard at work with the rest of the elements. They do what I cannot do, and I do what they can’t do. They’re the best. If you’d like to come hang out with the team at some point, you’re more than welcome into our Discord server. Come in and we’ll talk about Warframe, Smash bros, the dankest of memes, and cute anime girls high end videogame development.

Here’s hoping you’re having a fantastic rating season. We’re still playing games around, and some have been among the best ones I’ve seen in gamejams to date. Y’all are faaaantastic! Anyhow, I believe I’ve overstayed my welcome. If you’d like to have some more insights from my previous art works, do take a look at the following links. And if you’d rather read about scripting instead of art, my little buddy Jorge got you covered. with an in-depth take about the innards of the game. Keep your chins up and have a fantastic weekend, friendorinos! ?