Postmortem: The Lost Ziggurat of Nephthys

In case you haven’t been following along, The Lost Ziggurat of Nephthys is a 2D platformer that focuses on a grapple hook mechanic that I developed for a game jam with some friends – The Megaman Game Jam. I’m constantly looking for ways to growth as a developer and learn from my mistakes, so I wanted to write a postmortem on how the game turned out at the end of the game jam. Here’s a video of the finished product, as well as my thoughts on how the process went.

Postmortem

First and foremost, creating a time-based (As opposed to frame-based) platformer is harder than I thought it would be. I didn’t realize you had to implement literal physics equations to get platformers to work in a time-based structure. I’m very fortunate to have paid attention in physics class in high school! That said, I did “ship” with slightly (Maybe ~4 pixels) different jump heights when at low (~30) or high (~120) frame rates – A problem I aim to look more into now that the game jam is over.

Similarly, I had heard in the past that implementing moving platforms is hard, but the logic for them is actually extremely simple – When the player is colliding with one, move the player with the same velocity as the platform. There are definitely lots of design considerations to think about – What to do if the player gets squished, what happens if a horizontal moving platform runs into the player, how do they interact with other game objects, etc – but the implementation logic itself is simple. Unfortunately, I ran into a quirk in the GamerMaker Studio 2 engine that ended up making an approximately 2 hour task into a 10+ hour one. Long story short, GameMaker Studio 2 handles sprite masks (Collisions) in whole numbers, which makes sense, since a sprite can only occupy whole pixels. That said, x and y coordinates can be any range of float values. This discrepancy ended up causing a ton of pain for me (I would have pulled my hair out if I had any). Luckily, people in the GameMaker forums were super helpful and pointed out my problem after I asked them for help saving my sanity! Here’s a video showing the problem I ran into (I was so baffled by this problem I had to create a separate project just to focus on debugging it!)

Postmortems don’t have to be all about what went wrong, though. Working on new traps/objects was a ton of fun! I designed and implemented most of the gameplay objects in a single day. I can’t wait to add more to the game – I already have a large list of ideas! One thing I aim to do is create interactions between objects (Especially the grappling hook). Currently, the only interactions that I have are the grappling hook with walls, crumble platforms, and darts, and falling rocks with crumbling platforms. Increasing that matrix of interactions will help the game feel much deeper!

I’m so grateful I chose to add the grappling hook! The game would be extremely boring without that mechanic, and the initial implementation only took me about 2 hours to add. That said, I did have to do a lot of tuning and bug fixing after that initial implementation. The grappling hook also helped inform some of the design of the game, such as level design, crumbling platforms crumbling when you grapple onto them, and non-grapplable walls (Which I probably didn’t utilize as much as I should have).

I think the simple “story” is the way to go for a game jam. Anything more and it would have been wasted time. That said, if I choose to develop this into a bigger game, I’m going to have to think more in-depth about the story and how I can marry the gameplay to it.

The roguelike aspect of the game doesn’t really shine at the moment, due to the limited number of rooms. I need to make way more levels, which will require me to create more objects and fine-tuning my level design.

All in all though, I rediscovered my love working on small projects! It was a blast to come up with ideas, script object behavior, and tune the game’s mechanics.

Megaman Game Jam Submissions

We made it to the end of the first ever Megaman Game Jam! Here are the games that were submitted.

Shots in the Dark

Created by Scout Clithero.

Description: A game of social deduction.

The Lost Ziggurat of Nephthys

Created by Paul Kankiewicz (That’s me!).

Description: A 2D roguelike platformer where the player explores a dangerous ancient temple using a grappling hook.

Notes:
I recommend playing it with keyboard and mouse, but it supports controller as well.
Shift + S: Cycles between a few screen shake options if you want to reduce it.
Alt + Enter: Toggles fullscreen. Warning: If you move the window, you’ll likely fall out of the world.

Late Submissions

It is likely that there will be more submissions that will be completed past the deadline. Check back later to see if anything has been added under here.

Megaman Game Jam Progress: Week 2

With a second week down, the Megaman Game Jam is already halfway over. Here’s my progress so far:

The main things I did this week were adding several traps, creating two levels (Plus a few temp ones), randomizing which level the player gets loaded into when they go through a door, and lots of tuning. The idea here is to make the game a roguelike platformer. I think the game is already a lot of fun, but there are still two weeks to get in all sorts of great things!

Megaman Game Jam Progress: Week 1

For the past week, I’ve been working hard on developing a game for the Megaman Game Jam. Here’s my progress after 1 week.

I’ve mostly been working on the main platforming mechanics so far, so I hope to spend more time developing the game into something bigger in the coming weeks.

Megaman Game Jam

I have a lot of game developer friends. After talking to some of them, we decided it would be fun to challenge each other to a game jam. Thus was born the Megaman Game Jam!

Rules:
1) Time limit: 1 month. Game submissions are due on July 15, 2021 at 11:59 PM PST. This long timeline allows people to make their game when they have time, rather than crunching to get something in. This does mean submission quality will vary wildly, but that’s okay!
2) Assets (Art, audio, etc) can be obtained anywhere.
3) Judging/prizes: None – This is just for fun.
4) Submission format: Anything goes – Exe, Twine, website link, etc.
5) Submissions/playing the games: Games will be posted on this site in a separate post after the cutoff date.
6) Submissions are not required to stick to the theme.

Theme: Inner Demons

Check back in one month to see what unique and interesting games we came up with!

What Does a Game Designer Do?

“What does a Game Designer do?” This is a question I get asked a lot. I often jump into the technical details and my day-to-day responsibilities, but that all too often seems to go over the heads of my audience, leaving them just as clueless as to what it is I actually do as they were at the start of the conversation. Today, I’m going to take a different approach. Today, my answer is “a game designer is like a carpenter.”

Carpenters start by choosing what sort of project they want to work on. This could be a house, a bench, a stool, or whatever. Similarly, at a high level, someone on the design team (Typically the creative director or some other high up designer) has to decide what project the team is going to work on.

Once the project has been decided, it’s time to get to work. The carpenter then draws up some schematics that detail exactly what they project entails. This is done for two major reason. First of all, fixing mistakes on paper is much easier than fixing them in the finished product. Secondly, it’s much easier to create something when you have an blueprint to work off of and to point to when something doesn’t look quite right. In game design, we call these blueprints design documents, or documentation.

After making a plan, the next step for a carpenter is to gather all the tools and materials they need to complete the project. A carpenter might gather materials like nails, screws, and various pieces of wood, as well as tools like hammers, saws, and screwdrivers. A skilled carpenter needs to know how to select the exact right components. Should the nails be made out of steel or iron? Should they be 1″, 2″, or 3″ long? Should they be common nails, box nails, or finishing nails? Game designers have to make all of these decisions for everything they, or someone else, makes in the game, and some decisions are much tougher to answer than you might think. There’s a common design problem called “The Door Problem” that showcases this very well. Unlike carpenters, game designers not only have to select what they want, but they have to effectively communicate what the game needs to other teams. Here’s where communication skills come in handy, as this is sort of like playing a game of telephone. To make matters worse, it can sometimes feel like other teams speak an entirely different language.

It’s important to note that while a carpenter knows how to use the materials and tools to make something beautiful, the carpenter doesn’t actually *make* the materials or tools themselves. Similarly, a game designer needs to know where to place assets (Art, audio, etc) and how to use tools (World editors, quest editors, behavior tree editors, etc), and likely has a hand in how they’re made (ie, their design), but they aren’t typically the ones that actually create them. It’s a designer’s job to put everything together, not make the individual pieces.

At the end of it all, a game designer, just like a carpenter, has to spend the time and do the work to put everything together in a cohesive manner. Artists can add beautiful animations to models, but without a game designer, that’s just a movie. The audio team can make hours of epic music, but without a game designer, that’s just a soundtrack. Writers can write stunning prose that would make even Shakespeare jealous, but without a game designer, that’s just a novel. So what does a game designer do? They’re the people that bring everyone’s work together in a cohesive manner to make it shine.

Quest Complete: Work my way up the game designer chain

I was promoted to Senior Game Designer at Monolith Productions!  I’ve been working in the industry for roughly a decade now, and it still doesn’t even feel real.  It’s hard to believe that I go to work everyday to make games that are much bigger than what I played as a kid.  Life’s strange sometimes 🙂  Next quest: Ship a title with a 90+ Metacritic review score!

Open Ocean Postmortem

In case you didn’t know, I’m part of a podcast called 37% Unplayed.  37% Unplayed episodes talk about video games and game design in a similar format to book clubs.  Our latest episode was a postmortem on the indie game I made, Open Ocean.  Check it out!

http://37percent-unplayed.blubrry.net/2019/07/01/open-ocean-postmortem/

Open Ocean

For the past six months, I’ve been working on an indie game in GameMaker Studio 2. In two weeks, on Tuesday, June 11, Open Ocean will release on Steam! This is my first indie game, so I decided to make a small game with a big message, and while it’s not the most fun game in the world, I’m extremely proud of it! Here’s a link to the Steam page: https://store.steampowered.com/app/1071640/Open_Ocean/

EDIT: The game is now available on itch.io as well!
https://allyproductions.itch.io/open-ocean

37% Unplayed Podcast

Some fellow game developer friends and I created a podcast called 37% Unplayed!  We’re a bunch of nerds that talk about video games and game design – If you’re interested in either of those topics, you should give us a listen!