Giving up on ideas - Planet Waves Postmortem
Hey! I go by Delta-key here on the internet, and I'm a member of Escada Games. Mainly, I code stuff and try to come up with ideas about cool games. Some of them go great, others... not so much, like most of the ideas we had while working on Planet Waves, that is, this postmortem's game. I'll try to keep this text quite natural, and it might even end up a bit hard to read... if that ends up being the case, sorry about that. Lately, I've trying to follow the thought that "done is better than perfect" (which sounds a bit better in portuguese, in my opinion: "feito é melhor que perfeito").
We just released a new jam game called Planet Waves. It's a tower defense about protecting a little planet from insect-like aliens. We made it for the gotm.io jam #3, which theme was "tiny world". This theme is a bit common as a jam theme: I myself already have seen it on the Godot Wild Jam and on the Ludum Dare too. However, even with lots of games that took a spin with this theme, I believe this doesn't really make the theme any easier...
Initially, the idea me and my buddy Sucraiso had was to make a 2d metroidvania splatformer with lots of little planets, and you would travel between them using their gravity field, and a jetpack that would work like the booster v2.0 in Cave Story. We've been participating game jams for some time now, and I thought we could up the bar a bit in terms of the game's scope, and therefore a metroidvania seemed like a good bet: specially after playing Pear Potion, and noticing that a game of this genre doesn't really need to be really complex and with a gigantic map. Something small but detailed would work fine.
This idea was pursued for about 4 days, I think. In the end, well, we couldn't really get anything impressive. The code was pretty much done and working fine, and a paper map of what the game would look like was done too, but something was missing. If I had to point what was wrong, I would go simply with "we were not motivated enough". Well, it happens, I think. Sometimes we start working on something with great interest, and suddenly this feeling vanishes. It usually happens when close to finishing a game, but for our case, it happened even before we reached half of the dev time, I think. So, we abandoned the project.
I tried to move on with other things I had to do with my life, like, you know, doing the dishes and studying, but deep inside my mind I had this idea bugging me. Such a common theme, and we couldn't think of anything else, maybe something that would be more feasible? I tried to work a bit more with the metroidvania prototype, but still wasn't really working. Then, I started using my good old pal, the razor, that is, I started cutting corners in the idea. Maybe, we could have just a single planet, instead of a lot of them? After all, I already had the code to convert a 2d level into a circular one (this turned out quite nicely btw, I even ended up a bit proud of myself. Not a lot, however, just a little bit proud). I toyed with a game like this for about two days I think, and then gave up again.
The day after I thought about making a tower defense on a planet. Initially I dismissed the idea, after all, we already worked for about 6 days on something that wasn't really making us happy, be it either with the results or with the development process (that is supposed to be fun too I believe). Still, since it kept bugging me, just like happened before with the other idea, I decided to try to give it a go.
While working on the other prototypes, I thought that adding some lighting to the game would look nice, since the game is about planets, and those sometimes orbit a star that shines a lot of light on them. When working with the tower defense prototype then, I started to toy with some solar power mechanics. The game's currency to build towers would be energy, and this energy would be obtained from photovoltaic generators, that is, solar plates. Also, since the planet should spin around the sun, those solar plates would sometimes be in the dark, and not produce any energy. Since this could mean that the player would be screwed if they ended up needing the energy when none is being produced, I added the option to spin the planet.
This seemed like a nice idea, one I could bear to work with a bit longer... well, that was long enough to get me to finish this game, even if it is a bit simple!
This ended up comboing nicely with the other towers. The planet has a limited real state, and the player needs to correctly manage all their offense towers and support towers: by allowing the player to spin the planet, they can point a sector of the planet with more offensive towers towards a place with more enemies, or point more solar plates towards the sun. In the case an enemy starts to attack, they can also shield the planet core by putting a shield tower in the enemy's path. Basically, by spinning the planet, we allow the player to move towers to places where they are more useful.
The tradeoff is that, of course, all the towers are moved at the same time. So, by focusing on attacking, you might leave another place of the planet vulnerable, or lower your energy output.
We just released the game, so we don't really know how much players will enjoy this mechanic, but I myself am content with it. It might not be a crazy good game idea, but hey, I enjoyed developing this game and polishing it here and there. Right now, I think that our games need to level up their polish, and so a might have went a bit over the top with the particles and lighting in Planet Waves... well, I hope it still is playable, and maybe even fun to play.
So, what have I learnt while making this game? Well... I think I learned that sometimes we have an idea that looks great, but after working with it a bit, it turns out to be a bit boring to keep working with it. It might be a great idea, but sometimes you have to be in the mood to work on it. And to enter this mood or to get another idea that is exciting too... yeah, that can take a while. We ended up a bit tight on schedule, but still, we finished one more game. As we like to think, we climbed another step towards being better game developers, that is, we climbed another step of this Escada.
Hope you enjoyed reading this postmortem! Any feedback, be it about this text or about Planet Waves, is very welcome. Thanks for the attention!
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