Whenever we participate in a game jam, one of the core aspects people always compliment us on is on polish. With the release of Woofice Chair! those compliments came back around and we are very proud of receiving them again!
But what is this dark magical art that people call polish? And what about juice? While both are regarded as something to highlight in jam games, we believe polish is deeply connected with gameplay. Polish not only helps give a game a more complete-feel, but also helps making gameplay more satisfying to the player!
Welcome to my pep talk, fellow jammers. I’m Moski, Whales And Games’ lead artist andI made the artwork for our team’spark protecting game Woofice Chair!
For this Ludum Dare, we assembled a team of four. Two programmers, from Portugal and Brazil, an audio composer currently in the UK, and me, the graphics artist, from Mexico. For three days, we poured our hearts, soul and sweat into making what started as an inside joke about dogs and office chairs into an actual game. That meant, for me, three days of constant work and arm pressure!
But I’ve got a confession to make regarding how I made art for the game. I did not touch the game until a day after it was finished and submitted. Yet, I worked with the team fluidly, like a well oiled and battle-tested machine. This comes as a result of a long time of mutual understanding, following certain guidelines and experience.
I want to make this quick, simple and digestible, so let’s quickly go through some things that have helped my team iterate and implement things fast enough. Whatever your role is in the team, this may be of use to you, and it can help pack and polish as much as possible during a jam!
Teamwork boils down to Communication! 💬
If you’re in a team, you need active communication between each other. It may sound obvious, but you may want to take a moment to think if you’re in the same channel as your teammates! Talk about when to cooperate and when to coordinate!
Our team is all over the world and are busy or sleeping at different times, meaning we need to know what everyone needs from each other as early as possible. Sure, you’ll talk about what the game will be about during the first hours, but the artist’s interpretation of the assets can be very different from the programmer’s plans.
It’s important, then, to only start actually working in the production of the game when there’s a proper agreement of what’s actually being done. Otherwise, you can spend a lot of time making assets or concepts that won’t get used or don’t match the rest of the team’s vision.
Our team tends to make very quick ugly doodles to demonstrate what we’re brainstorming. This tends to include perspective, mock up of characters, gameplay screens, mechanics, and so on. These help immediately establish a vision across the team and which leads to my next point.
Total trust! Delegate and have faith! 🐕
Once everyone is on the same page, stay communicated, and share files around as they’re needed. In my role as the artist, my first assets tend to be placeholders for the bare minimum necessary that would allow the programmers to experiment with mechanics and playing area of the game. Simultaneously, they give me feedback on the things that are needed, like the resolution of the assets, the camera size of the area I’ll be drawing, and so on!
But when this inevitably happens and people need to go to work or bed, those that are still available should still have the tools necessary to continue working. Once we had the basic assets, I had the opportunity to work on more dogs, more weapons, more enemies, make changes to the map and even make some UI with little to no input from the other members. Since drawing was my sole role, it meant three days of doing just that.
However, remember that you’re working with a team. Mind other people’s needs and skills, and adjust accordingly. Preferably, make some rules and protocols!
Some mild organization goes a long way in teamwork! 🗃️
There’s really very little time to work with during a Ludum Dare. You should use the opportunity to develop your skills and learn methodologies! With some agreements about file names, adjusting assets to constant sizes and organization, you can save on time that would otherwise be used in tweaking, fixing and finding files!
Our team was able to easily add the assets into the game and tweak them without issues because of our consistency and methodologies. Most files were properly named, organized and sent in batches. All the sprite sheets of the same category had the same size for the panels and canvas. We knew what UI assets we’d need since we’ve done this before. We’ve found out that we can do a lot more when we have basic discipline.
This discipline is learned with time and practice! As you participate in more jams, you’ll find better ways to organize your archives, make folders, share them with your group, and adapt to whichever project is pursued. Talk constantly with your team, learn what works and what doesn’t, and you’ll soon find out that you’re doing plenty of the tasks without even thinking about them!
Working multiple times with the same team has its merits! 👷♂️
There are merits to learning to adapt to different teams. Experimenting is always a good thing! But knowing the people you’re working with is also a fantastic experience and can go long ways! This goes beyond getting along, having fun or synergy. Actually knowing how others work already helps a lot with avoiding common team-struggles, and helps push the project even further.
For example, I know what my team is looking for when they need animations, or when they need particles, elements for UI, the project resolution, and many more. In the same vein, they know the kind of assets I can make, how I can deliver them, how to ask me for tweaks in small mistakes and the like. I didn’t need to play the game to see if my assets would work because I know what to send them to experiment with. In bigger projects, I may need to have a direct input on how things are being used, but on jam games, this connection with the team works great!
But one may think, a bigger team should be able to make a bigger project, right? Well, not necessarily.
Too-many-cooks syndrome! 🍳
Our team of four has done wonders. I’ve even experimented with another short team at one point and had a great time! But the one time I joined a larger team, things didn’t go so well.
Communication is very important in teamwork, but it’s more difficult to manage on larger teams! I thought that a big number of programmers with plenty of artists would result in a lot of artwork being made and implemented. However, there were clashing styles, mixed ideas and people went missing for long periods.
I’d recommend being practical and sticking to a smaller team for jam games! While a big group can make a lot more content independently, when put together, there can be a lot of miscommunication, overlapping and it becomes harder to control scope. To some, working with bigger teams may be fantastic, but I would suggest sticking to smaller ones for your first few jams!
Wrapping this post up! 💪
This was likely the jam where I had the best balance of quality and quantity of assets, and it was only possible because of fantastic teamwork, mild organization and methodologies!
I believe that these things I’ve mentioned before can do wonders to you regardless of your role in the team. Not everyone needs to be doing everything and constantly supervising at all times. There may be moments when “all hands-on deck” may be necessary, but constantly needing everyone’s input will reduce everyone’s independence!
While this post was more about team experience rather than my usual actual art insight, I’ve posted in the past about artwork design before! Consider giving them a look!
Hey there! It’s hard to believe that this year passed so fast that we have already participated in an Art Fight event again!
Just like last year, we want to offer some artist insight, and since I, Moski, am the lead artist that’s in charge of the art-side of things around here. I’ll be telling you all about Whales And Games’ participation in Art Fight 2020!
In last year’s post-mortem, we explained what the Art Fight event is, our reasoning to participate and our overall experience taking part in it. But things changed a lot with Whales And Games since last year, which in turn affected how spicy things got this past July! Let’s get into it and see, shall we?
Starting from the top and recapping from last year, Art Fight is an event where artists get selected into one of two different teams, submit their own original characters and score points for their team by drawing characters belonging to artists from the rival team. It’s two teams drawing characters from each other for a whole month, which results in one of the most wholesome art-trading wars that you can participate in on the internet!
This time around, since we wanted to take the opportunity to wrap up some of the ideas from Whales And Games and Bunny Copulation, we decided to participate in the event by updating our character sheets as well as creating some new ones for characters from both brands. I also wanted to improve my skill on my new drawing program of choice, Clip Studio Paint, which I had recently switched to from Krita for both promotional and game artwork.
At some point, we thought about a twist to wrap up the event and, well, things went off the rails in the best way possible, merging both our artwork and game development prowess together!
In this year’s edition of Art Fight, the teams to choose from were between Sugarand Spice. I opted to draw under the flag of Spice out of preference, and, before I knew it, I was creating art left and right!
Character Sheets and Artwork! Just the usual…?
For Art Fight 2020, we wanted to update a lot of our characters to properly reflect how we’ve evolved since our first participation. Last year, we had plenty of sheets for people to draw built from previous promotional and game art, but we hid them all at the beginning of the event to make new versions of them.
These new versions, featuring completely original new art created just for these sheets, took a lot longer than expected, eating away the first two weeks of the event. However, despite the delay, they allowed us to introduce some brand new and freshened up designs for several of our mascot characters!Whalechan and Dapperchan are now officially looking nicer and dapper than ever!
Once we finished the character sheets, it was finally time for me to create some awesome art. Since we needed to make up for the time lost, we decided to start strong, picking characters from pending revenges from last year and bookmarks (found by randomly hopping around users) that we thought looked striking. My first piece of art featured an animated background, and as soon as we uploaded the attack, we started getting attacked as well, which was great! We liked the final result of the first attack so much, we made it a goal to animate every attack from there on out.
Halfway through the event, we had finished 6 attacks. We roughly had around 15 by the same time in the previous year. I originally intended to continue making standalone artwork until we were done, but then, we had a wild idea.
Art Fight Duel, an actual playable game?!
As we were midway through the event, we conceptualized an actual playable card game based on Art Fight. Art Fight Duel, with a pitch document written and all.
I didn’t sleep that night. It was just the perfect mix of, well, everything! We’re game developers and artists, it was a game that involved both Art and Fighting, it could feature over a dozen artists, put some of our own characters into a new game, and it could be just the thing we needed to reignite our game development spirit!
From the moment we had the concept down, we decided to make the game rather than to continue making artwork for several reasons:
A game jam sounded like a very innovative idea for the event, since it’s usually reserved for finite pieces of artwork. Turns out, it was very novel, since more people made games about Art Fight this year too.
The game pitched card game mechanics mixed with auto-battler mechanics. This resulted in the possibility to add as many characters as we could and putting them in a setting where they were actually fighting. Thematically, it made perfect sense with the event.
It made use of a lot of concepts from the history of the event. Art Fight Duel is team based, just like its namesake. We also added affinities based on previous event themes and a few nods to things that are well known by the event’s community and past participants.
We had the opportunity to put some of our new character sheets to use. Finally, we were able to give Whalechan (and Dapperchan) a proper participation in a game!
The execution of the development didn’t go flawlessly, but the result speaks for itself. By spending every single day of what was left of the event in developing the game, we managed to feature 20 artists, with animated sprites for all the 24 featured characters. We took heavily into consideration their designs and bios when creating their sprites, attacks and stats.
We submitted the first version of the game in the last two minutes before Art Fight was over. No stress! After the event, we spent some extra weeks tweaking and adding in audio, a proper title screen and our usual settings and credits, bringing the game right up to our jam-standard!
Art Insight, Learning and Results
We wrapped up Art Fight, and I was finally convinced that switching from one drawing program (Krita) to another (Clip Studio Paint) was the best thing to do at this point in my artist career.
While I didn’t learn as much as last year, I still tried to innovate in my style in some aspects:
Layer Clipping – There are many methods to mask and group across different drawing programs. Due to the limited time, I needed one that could be easily organized and managed quickly. In Krita, I used Alpha Inheritance to create shadows, but it required pesky layer management. In Clip Studio Paint, Layer Clipping does similar results in a more simple fashion.
Airbrushing–I had practised with airbrushes before, but I wanted to experiment with it here too, with great results. Turns out they get along great with Layer Clipping and help give a nice-finish oomph to my pieces!
CSP’s Asset Library – My new drawing program comes with a community-driven marketplace where people can create tools and assets. In a few situations, I wanted to make use of some brushes from there, and so I learned how to properly download and install them.
Masking– Similar to Alpha Inheritance and Layer Clipping, Masking allowed me to work with each artwork in non-destructive ways, delimiting the areas where some layers could be visible. While one would think that they’re all just different ways of doing the same thing, it turns out that combining either of the two with Masking allows for fantastic results.
Special Layers – For some pieces, I needed to experiment with things that I could easily do in Krita which I had not been able to replicate on CSP yet.
One of those was halftones. While not the same, I found out that CSP has full functionality for Tone Layers, which allows making layers filled with simple patterns and which helped me create some fancy effects.
I also learned about Object Layers, which are like Photoshop’s equivalent to Smart Objects. These allowed me to put files in a layer and be able to resize them without destroying their properties.
Beyond Art into Game Development!
Beyond the standalone artworks, Art Fight Duel represented equal opportunities to learn differently. It helped me understand things I could do better on Krita before, like the character sprites and the use of mirroring tools. However, I did end up using pretty much the same techniques for the duration of the development, as there were not as many opportunities to try new styles.
Aside from its artistic point of view, there are some takeaways to explore too when it comes to the development of the game. While we had previously discussed considering making a game for Art Fight, it didn’t become a serious consideration until late into the event. Yet, once we got started, we couldn’t stop.
We did as much good to Art Fight Duel as it did to us. It had been a long time since we last made a short self-contained game, and it felt fresh to go back to that.We chose a genre we have never challenged and went with mechanics we had never used. Since Art Fight is an endless ocean of characters, designs and concepts, we rarely had troubles in finding any particular thing that could fit any of our design’s needs.
As a result, Art Fight Duel became one of our most ambitious games, mixing strategy, fast-based mechanics, a distinctive style, and plenty of cards. Plenty of the people who had their character featured in the game have been pleasantly surprised. Given the circumstances, we’d say that the game was quite popular among the social circle it was made for, and it has plenty of opportunities to grow!
However, since it had been a while since we last developed a short self-contained game, we heavily under-estimated the implementation of some features. As a result, we had to spend some extra weeks following the end of Art Fight implementing quality-of-life inclusions such as settings and audio without otherwise would make the game feel lackluster.
With us participating in Ludum Dare 47 in the coming week, and with Bunny Splash Casino resuming development, it’s important we take these short-comings into consideration, and make sure we prepare in advance. For example, features such as re-usablesettings menus can be prepared ahead of time of the event to avoid spending precious jam time adding basic quality-of-life features.
Spending so long in making character sheets and changing gears from making artwork to making a game jeopardized our opportunity to receive cool artwork a bit, and ended up receiving less artwork than last year. However, the game was fantastically received to the point that it even got featured!
Aside from that, and just like last year, there are still numerical results we’d like to evaluate, and which help us gauge our participation and performance in the event:
My account has 1124 followers at the time of this post. It had 401 last year, so that’s a massive leap! It helps that this year we knew about the event in advance, which allowed us to network ahead of time.
This year, I made 6 drawings and one Mass Attack in the form of Art Fight Duel. Last year, I made 26 drawings. While I had less to show than last year, all of it was animated, and the game was a great success!
We updated 6 of our 12 character sheets from last year. Aside from that, we finally closed-off Whalechan’s new design, formalized Dapperchan and showcased a bunch of new Bunny Copulation designs!
We received 42 defences. That’s lower than last year’s 60. This is the result of roughly being “active” for a lot less than last year, since we were busy with the character sheets and the game. But the notoriety of making the game should cause some interest in 2021!
Of those 42 defences, the Whalechan redesign was the most popular, getting 15 defences, with Buns Buns following second at 11 defenses.
Bluessom triumphed over Jazzy this year, with 5 versus 3 defenses.
While other participants were quick to fall-to-love with Whalechan’s new design, Dapperchan still needs to warm up to people, as she only got 3 defenses overall.
Some characters which we didn’t even do new sheets for, such as Caffie and Mr. Woofman, got 1 defense too!
Feelings and Emotions
While the experience overall was fantastic, Art Fight occurred in a very tumultuous moment for us. At times, it was difficult to grasp that the expectations and the reality didn’t match up perfectly. However, it was also proof that some of the best things in life are not really planned, and that even when plans don’t match expectations, one can have a great time.
Last year, I came to the conclusion that I really enjoyed drawing characters. And I still do, perhaps even more, but the experience came around with the idea that I’ve also got to grow in maturity. The novelty of having this brand-new event was gone, and we needed to up the ante. This resulted in us participating in the event as if it was a self-imposed opportunity, and wanting to make the most out of it across character sheets, thumbnails, animation and even a game. Rather than treating Art Fight as a leisure, as we probably should have, we ended up feeling fatigued as the days went by.
However, doing art leisurely or for the sake of improvement are not necessarily contradictory statements. The saying says “find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life”. I’d say that’s partially true, but one has to also cope with things like health and fatigue, and adjust accordingly. But even when things go dire, I really do like drawing. I may be older than the average participant and have been doing art since my teens, but drawing fun, interesting characters is still part of my DNA.
Applying my artistic skills to make an actual game really opened up the possibilities of what I, and we can do during Art Fight. Regardless of making regular artwork, animations or even games, it’s important to play to one’s strengths at times, but also to take risks in others. I don’t feel so bad about having missed out on doing more character artwork when I see that people really enjoyed playing the game.
We have evaluated the possibility of making it a tradition to update Art Fight Duel every year, with new mechanics, adding content to match the new themes, and, of course, even more characters from more artists! We still need to make more character sheets, and, if things go right, we’ll be plenty busy with Bunny Splash Casino alongside it. For now, we’ll wait and see, but it’d be a fantastic time to update it going forward!
For the time being, I’ve got a whole year ahead of me to further polish my skills so that, if I do join Art Fight next year, I am even better than I was this year! Even if fatigue or personal worries get in the way, I still see myself creating artwork for the foreseeable future and I’ll do my best to enjoy it.
That will be something to look forward to! For now however, we have to prepare for Ludum Dare 47, and the challenges our new commercial projects bring us! Thank you for reading and I hope you join us along for the ride!Cheers! 🐳
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.
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.
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.
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 Styles – Photoshop 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.
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.
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.
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!
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! 🐳
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.
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.
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 Sellout, Ludum 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! ??