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! ?

Krita • The Free Art Program I used for 3 Gamejams

My buddy Jorge already posted a timelapse video about our game, Petty Puny Planet 38, highlighting the evolution of the project from the coding and developing point of view. However, there’s nothing there about how the art assets actually got done, because I did that on the side. Hooray for teamwork!

Let me talk a bit about why I used Krita, a free open-source digital painting program, to make the game assets for our 3 game jams so far, plus some other projects with varying degrees of success.

Some sprites from Hyper Holomayhem 37, made for Ludum Dare 37. It’s a quasi-randomly generated shooting arcade platformer.

The most important part comes first: Krita is free and open source. Completely free. No hidden charges, no recurring payments, no shades-of-gray morality involved, no account making. I’ve been using it for years now, and it’s a solid alternative to others like Paint Tool Sai, Fire Alpaca and even Photoshop (as long as you don’t need to use vectors or text, which are Krita’s weak points. In which case, yes, I use Photoshop).

If you check the website, you’re probably thinking that it’s mostly a program for digital painting art, and yes, it is. Regardless, like pretty much any other art program, it can be used and adapted to suit your needs. For example, I’ve been using it to make 2D assets for a few projects that Jorge and I have worked on. Our most recent one, made for this past Ludum Dare 38, is Petty Puny Planet 38, which uses full layered drawings.

A sample of Petty Puny Planet 38’s assets. Check it out and leave us a comment!

During Ludum Dare 36 and 37, however, we instead made games that used sprites. With brushes, guides and tools that can help with it, I also used Krita to make everything that you can see in our games, minus the text. All the UI, buttons and such were made with it as well. Krita is just that flexible.

Colossorama 36 made for Ludum Dare 36, was our first game jam project. The original title screen was too gory, so we later updated the game as just “Colossorama”, with this more refined and appealing title screen

Thus far, I’ve shown that we’ve used Krita for a platformer, an arena and even a simulator of sorts. While it’s not public, we also made a tower defense game at some point. The assets, again, were made with Krita, even though the animations and what not were done inside of Unity itself. (Krita actually supports animation, but that’s something I haven’t dwelled on yet)

Some enemies made for out tower defense game, which we might release in the future. It was a school assignment. Here, you can see some enemies, with their limbs separated, ready to be animated.

Since we’re a team, it’s been a breeze to separate our work and allow for the coders to code and the artists to art, which have resulted in appealing and polished experiences, or so we’ve been told. But if you’re a one person game jammer, well, with enough practice, you can have some of your most needed assets done within minutes. I’m still learning a lot about this, but so far, I’ve had a lot of fun.

Platformer shooter concept art and assets that never were put to use. Oh well. Not all projects can be winners.

Aside from games, though, I’ve mostly used Krita to draw fanart, comics, original characters and even channel art for youtubers, streamers and what not. Feel free to click on this shameless plug if you’d like to check my deviantArt.

Krita doesn’t reinvent the wheel nor try to do some arcane magic, so whatever you know about art theory, layers, filters and what not still applies. Here’s the link again if you’d like to check it out! Take it out for a spin and see if you can put it to use in your own projects. As for me, I can see myself using it in Ludum Dare 39 as well.

Before I leave, if you liked this post, please give Pretty Puny Planet 38 a try. I hope that you like what you see there. In behalf of the team Whales and Games, thanks for reading. Cheers! ?

Hyper Holomayhem 37’s Hyper Post Mortem

It’s been a full month since we released Hyper Holomayhem 37. With the holidays and university finals, we found little to no time to actually give our experience with Ludum Dare 37 the proper conclusion it deserved. But alas, some free time to be able to write and share with you the highs and lows of the development process of our second time on the rodeo!

Hyper Holomayhem 37 is a side-scroller platformer shooter where, as a jetpacker trainee, you must stay for as long as possible in the Hyperdeck, a room that’s constantly changing layouts as you power it up with gears. Gameplay is based around collecting the gears spread throughout the level which you must bring back to the room’s core under a time limit. Enemies chase you around, and you will have break the blocks in order to get to some gears you wish to collect. Once the time is over, your training is complete.

Our development team was composed of three game developers, each of us with a different area of expertise. Jorge returned again as the gameplay programmer and Moski once again fulfilled his role as the game’s artist, exactly as it had previously been the case with our Ludum Dare 36 game, Colossorama. However, this time around we also had the opportunity of having Zak as the game’s audio composer (which you can read more about below).

Tools Used

Keeping with the pace from last time, we decided to stick with the usual tools for Hyper Holomayhem 37’s Development. The game’s uses Unity as it’s game engine with gameplay programmed in C#Krita was yet again used for producing the game’s art and Zak used FL-Studio for making everything from the Music to Sound Effects.

Game Idea and Design

After the jam’s theme (One Room) was announced, there were several ideas that were placed on the table as potential concepts that we could develop during the event. From all of those ideas, we decided to pick the concept of having an holographic room constantly changing layouts, now deemed in game as the Hyperdeck. Other ideas and concepts included impossible room puzzles and even an Fingered-esque game about room decoration.

The Hyperdeck idea was picked as the chosen idea not only due to the time limit we had to develop the game, but also to allow the game to have extra replayability value which is greatly enhanced in this concept thanks to the ever changing room layouts.

As progress on the game continued during the following days, we decided that we would focus on the game’s airborne platforming, as well as environmental destruction the player could make by destroying the blocks that made up the room’s layouts. These elements were then further expanded on with enemies, extra traps and even power-ups, all of them placed on the rooms at random, which also helped strengthen the game’s loop, even if several ideas had to be left on paper due to time constraints.

What went right?

Games Polish and Completion

One of the aspects that Hyper Holomayhem 37 was mostly praised on was the game’s overall polish. Although we had to make some cuts when it came to the gameplay, we made sure that game still felt complete and solid, as well as progressively let friends playtest the game in order to assure that no issue went unnoticed.

One of the reasons why we favor polishing overall is to allow each player to feel like they’re interacting with a vertical slice of a potential game. This allows them to always know what to expect in case they come back, either on their own or due to an update.

Task Scheduling and Submission

Once the game’s development was put up to speed, task division and scheduling was efficiently put into the place. We paced what needed to be done as we went through the days, and based on what content we knew we would be able to have in the game by the deadline. Same as last time, this allowed the submission hour to be fully dedicated to that for that alone, and based on requests from last time, we also provided a WebGL version right from the beginning.

Audio Composer

One of the things that we felt could have been better explored in Colossorama was the game’s audio. Last time, we were only able to find someone that could give us a hand on composing original tracks a few weeks after the game’s release and update. by that time, the great majority of potential players and Ludum Dare participants had already played the game.

However, with Hyper Holomayhem 37 we were able to find someone who was eager to give us a hand with the audio composing, Zak. Having someone doing and composing audio on the team helped us give the game a set of unique sounds and a great music track to boot, making the game more unique, and distinctive when it came to audio.

What could have gone better?

Overthinking Game Design

As mentioned above, several ideas were outlined right after the theme was announced. The final concept for Hyper Holomayhem 37 was only decided a few hours after the theme announced, which slightly delayed works.

Nonetheless, even after the final idea was picked, there was a period of uncertainty regarding what exactly made our concept unique and what exactly would be the game’s core loop. At the time this loop was only the player going around collecting the gears and bringing them back to the core. This eventually lead to multiple, overthought discussions about implementing features like puzzles, etc.

This uncertainty caused some delays, however, we then realized that the base loop we already had just needed to be spiced up, as collecting gears and destroying the room’s blocks was already engaging by itself, and playtesting helped confirm this fact. We then proceeded to add extra content to further solidify this game loop.

Unexplored Gameplay and Concepts

Despite having settled with our game loop, there was still a lot of content that had to be cut due to the time constraints, some of which caused by the delays of the concept’s uncertainty. Although each of us knew which tasks needed to be taken care off, and what schedule to follow, we believe we could have better explored the game’s concept, as well as added a lot more content into the game. One example of a game’s concept that was not fully explored, and caused us to have a not-so-good score when it came to the theme, was how the Hyperdeck represented a single room.

Some of this content that was unable to be included in the game included more types of enemies, power-ups and even completely changing the room’s aesthetic as the player completed layouts. We still hope to get back to these ideas in a future update.

Conclusion and Closing Remarks

Even if the game’s development was filled with mixed feelings, we’re still happy and glad of the final results, dazzled by how well the game scored, getting a 51st place in Jam Overall.

As a short summary from everything above as well as our notes advice both to you and for future projects:

  • If an idea you have the beginning of jam already seems like it’s going to be complicated to develop, it’s probably better to go for a simpler idea, unless you really want to challenge yourself to execute a complicated one.
  • Schedule your tasks, even if in an informal way. Make sure that every team member has a list of what’s needs to be done, especially if your team members are on different time zones.
  • It’s always for the best to make assets that might end up not being used than not having assets for the time they are needed.
  • Having an audio composer on board can really greatly improve your game and increase its atmosphere and value with unique sounds and music.
  • Don’t overthink your game’s mechanics. Sometimes a few basic and quickly learn-able mechanics are enough to create an engaging game loop and diverse content.
  • Always remember to build your game content, visuals and feel around your game mechanics. Form follows function.
  • Do playtesting often, even if it’s just limited to friends, in order to collect some low-level feedback on what to improve. Ideally, playtest with non-familiar people, as they provide the best and more honest feedback.
  • Focus on exposing your game after you finish it. One extra aspect we feel we could have done better was on spreading word about the game, which we didn’t do as much as we did with Colossorama.

Feedback is the greatest thing a developer can get, and we’re glad that we’ve been able to constantly receive it. Hyper Holomayhem 37 was yet another great game we enjoyed developing, even given the hiccups, and we’re full of ideas on how to improve it, as well as for brand new projects we hope to do soon!

Thanks a lot for reading! As always, even if post mortems are mostly for self-reflection, we have the optimism that those who read these always learn something from them. We’re really glad of our results and the feedback we’ve collected during Ludum Dare, and it’s all thanks to you, the wonderful jammer community.

Our hands are completely full with assignments, commissions and other projects we must get done under a tight time frame, but we hope we are able to come back with some new stuff to show soon, as well as give Hyper Holomayhem a brand new coat of paint and bring it to the same level of content as Colossorama. It’s probably going to take a while, but it’s something we want to do as soon as we can!

If you wish to keep up with what we’ve been doing, you can follow us at @JorgeGameDev and @The_Moski as well as @Zakblystone, which was a honor having as a guest to help compose the game’s audio.

Thanks a lot! Until next time! And don’t forget to try out Hyper Holomayhem 37 if you still haven’t given it a go already!

Hyper Holomayhem 37

As another Ludum Dare comes by, another game comes out! I’m pretty sure our sleep patterns got absolutely ruined as we went along during this weekend. But hey, that’s part of the experience.

Now, the judging phase follows, and this jam is the first on in which we will be taking part in the judging process since there was none last time. We’re curious to see how our game is rated and received, as well as its performance over time.

But before we talk more about that, allow us to once again, present you our project during these past days – Hyper Holomayhem 37!

Get your jetpack and your gun, as you’re in for a thrill! Enter the Hyperdeck, a room that keeps constantly changing as you keep powering it up with gears. An interesting interpretation of the One Room theme, or a cheap attempt at avoiding it? We’ll let it to your judgement.

These gears are spread across the room and every time you bring them back to the room’s core, the layout will change. Beware though! Enemies will also chase you around, and sometimes you will have to break blocks in order to reach several of the gears.

Gameplay is based around how long can you last in the Hyperdeck. How many gears will you be able bring back to the core? How many blocks will you destroy? The different ways you go around exploring the room can have different outcomes. Power-ups can aid you traverse the different floating platforms faster and shooting enemies before they explode near you will gain you some extra seconds.

Once you run out of time, the Hyperdeck turns off, and your run is over. There’s not really much of a difficulty curve at this point, but we hope you enjoy your minutes, regardless!

Give Hyper Holomayhem 37 a try! Like last time, we have a WebGL version playable in the browser! We’re looking for as much feedback as possible, especially since we want to work on a post-jam version sometime in the coming weeks. We definitely have several ideas of what we want to implement next since there were several concepts that had to be cut off during the jam.

As we mentioned in the beginning, we’re really curious about the whole judging process and how it will go. Of course, that is not only for us, as we also look forward for playing as many of the Ludum Dare games as possible!

Similar to last time, expect the post-mortem of the project in the following days. There’s definitely several situations compared to last time that we’ve improved on, and others that we could have managed in other, more efficient ways, and we want to share those with you guys as well.