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Postmortem: Mr. Spiff's Revenge

As a team, we had been talking about making a game together for quite a bit.  But we had to push the idea off due to a number of life responsibilities, school and work for the most part.  Once the summer rolled around, school was over and we could finally get on with our massive ambitions. 

Joining the Dobbs Challenge was a bit of an impulse move. The contest deadline was only two weeks away when we first saw it and we had originally planned to target another date much further into the future.  Since this would be our first project, we felt that it would be a good idea to get our feet wet with a much shorter term project in order to learn how to work as a team instead of jumping onto the bandwagon of a huge project only to have it fizzle quickly.  After two weeks worth of sleep deprivation, caffeine, and junk food, we came out with a win! 

What went right

1) Cut cut cut!
Being on a limited time schedule did not extinguish our high ambitions for the game.  Realistically, there was no way to implement everything we wanted to.  As we designed and built the project we kept a list of prioritized features with notes on dependencies.  This way it was easy to cut features as our deadline approached.

2) You betta recognize!
The quality of the gesture recognizer that we used was excellent.  It also helped that our programmer had already implemented it for a school project which allowed us to basically set it and forget it!  However, investigating the appropriate gestures to use for each action, as well as ensuring that there was enough of a difference between gestures took some time. This is especially true for the POW gesture.  When you're limited to only a single stroke, users tend to come up with many inventive ways to write multi-symbol gestures. We had to dedicate 15 templates just for POW and we're fairly sure this would have grown larger if we expanded our test group.

3) Yes sir, commander sir!
By having a small team we didn't have to manage several conflicting opinions.  We were able to make quick decisions and stick to them because we trusted each other's opinions in our respective domains.

4) Try try again
Refining the player control took quite a long time.  It was our most important focus and we probably spent roughly 40 - 50% of our time in this area.  Our programmer went through about four distinct control schemes before we found one that worked decently well.  We're glad that we stuck to our guns and made it work because the first couple of iterations were disastrous.

5) Cover me!
No matter how late we worked into the night, we managed to keep our cool and help each other when we needed it.  Tempers never flared and we handled issues quickly.  If you think something is up, don't let it fester for too long.  Bring it up ASAP and deal with it.  The earlier the better, even if you don't think it will affect you anytime soon. We were able to shift responsibilities as the need arose because we understood our time deadline and that the main goal was to get the job done.

What went wrong

1) Trigger Happy (Need more planning)
We blasted out of the gate so fast that we didn't leave enough time in the end for level and AI design.  All of the levels and boss AI logic were created in the last two days of the project along with all of the other miscellaneous details that get pushed until the end of a project. 

In addition, player gating became lost in our dev cycle. Gating is when you lock the player into a battle or some area without room for escape so that they are forced to face the challenge at hand.  Our game includes no gating, absolutely none.  The player can fall off ledges, run past enemies at will and kill themselves at any point on every level.  There is no real safe-zone in the game.  If we had sat back and reiterated over our priorities we would realized our weakness here.  We improved on this for the update by offering skill upgrades and increasing the difficulty of the bosses so that it is to the player's benefit to spend time upgrading. This gave the player a choice to enter into the boss battle fairly quickly with weak abilities or spend time upgrading and fight the boss with enhanced skills. 

Other areas that took a hit include enemy variations, boss AI, and differing art styles.  We simply did not have time to add additional enemies or to create and debug more complex AI routines.  The issue with art styles however, could have been resolved if we had spent some more time discussing the art direction of both the in-game and menu graphics.

2) Data data data data data data data data data data data...
Our game was not data driven enough.  Bad idea.  Won't ever do it again.  See Trigger Happy.  This becomes a lot more important when you only have a single programmer on the team.

3) Duck AND Weave
Even though we spent a large amount of time on the controls, it wasn't enough.  Movement and action are distinctly separate in our game.  This may not necessarily be bad, but when you originally wanted more of an action-oriented feel, the game feels decidedly slow. Having to stop every time before throwing a fireball feels limiting especially when it's quite easy to have the player fly through the level quickly. This is partly because we restricted ourselves to mouse input.

4) I want to have my cake and eat it too!
Balancing life, work and the project was difficult.  We had to make sacrifices that we normally wouldn't have to make.  Its summer time after all!  Betson has built up a tolerance for crunch but our dev schedule was pretty harsh, even for him.  He had about 7 hours of sleep in the last week of development. Chris had a full-time job to tend to, so he couldn't go without sleep, but he did nothing else with his life other than work, project, masticate and sleep.  Justin gets too much sleep on a normal basis, so we aren't sorry for him... :-P

5) What's the Up-side?
Spending time on the update was a bit of a dilemma.  We wanted to improve on our game, but not at the expense of our next project.  The reward for spending our time developing the update was not clear, especially since we had already won the contest.  We decided that we would not make any mind-numbingly large changes to the game (gating included because it would require all the levels to be redesigned as well as new art assets) and we would only develop the update for as long as we are in the design phase for our next project.  This allowed us to work on both projects somewhat concurrently.  Actually, we're still designing the next project, but that's only because we had a couple of curveballs thrown at us.

Conclusion

We gained a large amount of valuable experience from this project, even though it was completed in a very short timeframe.  The most important of all has been becoming accustomed to our team dynamic.  We are now more confident about our prospects for our next project.

 

Interesting post, i agree

Interesting post, i agree with most of what u said. Spending time on updates like you said would be a dilema

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