Monday 18 September 2017

Js13k 2017 'The Lost Packets' Retrospective

It is couple of days after the close of the js13k contest; the judging and voting are currently underway. After the user testing session I made a few small but critical changes to some aspects of the display, tightened up some levels and made it work on iOS correctly.

Here is my final entry on the contest website:

Below in blue my original goals for this project, and in black my comments

  • Elegant, minimal meta-game interfacing with access to all levels - I realised quite that this wasn't going to be a 'less is more' graphical design because I wanted the visual variety and colour - but in the end the level select screen looks quite is elegant and attractive; if not minimal.
  • Persistent local storage of progress and achievements. This was easy enough to implement but surprisingly important to the play testers some of whom even went back to it later in the week to complete 'their stars'.
  • Very elegant, abstract representation of the game play with minimal interface. Again the final game was a bit fancier looking than I had anticipated - I think the hex grid has a natural elegance but the very simple abstract paths on the grid need the complex backgrounds for visual flavour. The game play turned out to be even simpler than I had anticipated in my designs; just the simple mechanism of twisting the hexes and the time controls gave me more than enough for 20 levels.
  • Unique appearance for each level - algorithmic backgrounds and feature generation. Each hex on each level is a unique little generated drawing; each individual Lost Packet is different to every other and each sometimes chirps with a unique sound. So on this goal I did pretty well even though I used a quite different implementation than I had in mind originally.
  • Playable without external instructions - tutorials if needed. As it happens the mechanisms are so simple that almost all my test players rapidly discovered the game without any external help (and in most cases very little frustration) - so in the end no tutorials seemed needed.
  • Simple but varied audio effects for events and UI responses. I am happy to have achieved this goal to my satisfaction; audio is commonly the weak point of the games I create - it is an aspect of game design that I find extremely difficult. But the game has a varied audio landscape which still gives a  lot of information about what is going on and I think the audio and animation give the Lost Packets a tiny bit of personality.
  • Game play that extends over 20+ levels which might take several hours to consume and at its hardest will be challenging to most adult players. To take these one by one: the game is exactly 20 levels (okay); There are perhaps 3-4 hours game play in them if you are the kind of person who needs to get every star (okay); It seems from the play testing that the hardest levels can occupy and entertain people who play a lot of puzzle games for a several minutes each and they might try a few false starts and failed attempts before figuring out the puzzles (really good). I am extremely proud of achieving this third goal making a puzzle hard but possible is really hard.
  • Playable/usable on all screens and devices. The game works well and is very playable on the smallest screens; it also works surprisingly well on low-end Android phones and tablets; the game experience is very similar on PC and mobile device.  So all good on this goal

So over all the project went very well; as a matter of principle I don;t keep time sheets on hobby projects but I figure the total development time must be around 40-50 hours although the vast majority of the development was done after hours and on weekends when I was slow, tired, distracted and not always sober so it's hgard to compare this to focussed-hour's dev time.

Overall I am very happy with the outcomes.

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