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December minijam (Two birds with one stone)


Last sunday the december minijam happened, so here's a small postmortem written from my perspective.

How did we get from theme to game?
At the start of the jam I got talking with Adam about Haxe and the Ouya Jam. He liked to try a project in haxe (a programming language similar to flash's actionscript which can target multiple platforms natively). I've been using haxe for almost a year now so that made me the main programmer this time.
So Adam had this idea in mind for a film noir scene which we could do for the Ludum Dare Jam, which was happening simultaneously with the minijam. Lothar then joined in as well and did all of the pixelart while Adam was basically doing the game design, writing the script and doing the voiceovers.

I'm a big fan of the Sam & Twitch comics so I could get into the film noir setting and the mechanics of the idea reminded me of the intro of UMVC3, so with that in mind we got to work almost instantly after the minijam themes were announced (which we completely ignored).


Because we wanted to have the lowest possible barrier to entry we decided to target html5. So I got to testing out some stuff, sound was notoriously famous for not working and it turned out I couldn't get it to work. On my pc, in Opera & Explorer. However it did work on Adam's more powerful machine in Firefox, Chrome and a newer version of Explorer.
So I decided to just keep coding and making sure we could always fall back to the flash target. I started out implementing simple systems to trigger scene and camera changes, text, voiceovers and animations as it was a little unclear how things were dependent on each other. Initial animation for instance was scrapped for tween animation and then changed to just switching out a bitmap.
The script was coming along and with that we did a quick sketch of the storyboard that you can see at the top.

We were a little unsure of wether or not voiceovers would work well and it became clear to me that having some more flexibity and control in the triggering system would be a good idea. So I started rewriting things.
Unfortunately the minijam presentation deadline was looming and time was up before I could actually use all that for the assets. I got most of the triggers working again but synchronizing the voice with the text and tweaking the movements of the camera takes some time. So during the presentation people got their eyeballs burned with some fabulous programmer art from yours truly and random music I still had on my computer which totally didn't fit with the game. Sorry about that. Please do check out our Ludum Dare version of the game with all the visuals and sounds as they're intended. http://www.ludumdare.com/compo/ludum-dare-28/?action=preview&uid=27123

So after the minijam concluded we continued work, Adam created a nice set of voiceovers, Lothar improved the profile pictures and I actually got to implementing the crucial choice the player has to make at the end. Unfortunately I didn't have much time on monday so I spent about 6 hours adding all the assets, bullets, I redid the camera system, added parallax and added support for reading srt subtitle files. I also upgraded and adapted my code to the latest Haxeflixel version.



What went wrong?
- I would have liked to have spent a bit more time getting a clear overview of all the elements of the game, how stuff would interact etc. For instance, up until the presentation it never really dawned on me what the big green text was supposed to be used for :)
- The flash build had problems with certain audio files. It turned out sound HAD to be at 44Khz. I blindly ran into that and thought some weird data corruption had occured and re-created a project, dumped in the assets and source code and tried again. Safe to say, I wasted some time realizing the problem and converting all the sounds later on. (For that last conversion problem Qubodup kindly pointed me to a program for batch conversion called sox, thanks!)
- Rewriting code is a bad idea during a short jam. An initial idea generally works the most intuitive, even if it's limited and doesn't offer as much control as it could if you would rewrite it.
- I was working with an out of date Haxeflixel version it turns out. It's a library initially created by Adam Saltsman and has been greatly extended by the Haxeflixel guys. But because Adam (not Saltsman) was doing a fresh install of Haxe we were on different versions, and as it turns out, there was a big update in between. That made the code I had written pretty unusable for Adam later on so it was important this got changed.
- I wasted some time trying to get text look like really upscaled and anti-aliased (an artistic choice). Turns out haxe and haxeflixel are pretty idiot proof, the text always looked sharp, no matter what I did to it. So in the end Adam just pasted the text into pictures.
- Passing on the code. Basically since I wrote all the initial code and didn't have enough time on monday, Adam had to finish up. But as the first time programming Haxe and diving into my horror code, that wasn't easy. He did manage to fix a couple of issues that were left, like the essential final gunshot sound. But unfortunately I didn't explain the unintuitive camera control clearly enough so it was left unused. In hindsight I think I probably could have used tweens for clearer control and faster results. (I'm generally reluctant to use tweens as they quickly lead to this typical flash animation look.)
- Synching subtitles actually takes a lot of time. The script was 4 pages long and making sure every line is properly synched simply takes time. Also you can't start working on that until the final voiceovers are done. So it created a bottleneck and due to time restrictions the subtitles were also left unused.
- Bug, haxeflixel has the feature of automatically pausing the game as soon as the focus is lost. That was fine with my inital system where things were timer based. But after I rewrote it I never tested it again, so it just buffers all the events in the meantime and triggers them as soon as the game is unpaused.
- Feature creep in general. Especially in jams it's more important to focus on clear results one by one instead of adding more and more possibilities.
- Time works slightly different depending on which flash player version you have. I found this out just now, writing the postmortem. I made a test with the camera movements which worked fine on my jam pc with the debug flash player, but on my home pc with firefox and a flash plugin, it's a couple of milliseconds off. This results in slight but noticeable camera twitches. So be wary of this if you intend to make time based things.



What went right?
- Script, graphics and sounds turned out great.
- A singular vision.
- Not much programming wise :) In hindsight, for a project like this, an interactive storyboard, the timeline editor from programs like Macromedia's Director or Adobe's Flash would have been perfect, basically removing the need for programming completely. This way the focus could have been just on synching the assets.
- In testing out all those trigger systems I did get an interest in camera movement, panning, close ups and generally making the most out of the assets there are, bringing life to a relatively static scene. I really would have liked to have some sounds panning in sync with the camera for instance. It's not hard to implement.. :)



Free stuff!
Here's the Haxe project with all the source code.

The game is playable through here: http://www.ludumdare.com/compo/ludum-dare-28/?action=preview&uid=27123

(edit 27 December)
After the dead line I added some quick camera movements to show the idea. I've also added some slow motion particle effects for the rain and cut up the background to take advantage of parallax scrolling and also made the borders fade into black for more seamless transitions. The effects appear somewhat crude due to the low native resolution but don't let it stop you from re-using the code. We used 160 x 90, if you were to use a higher resolution, the effects would also get a lot more smooth.

You can take a look at the modified version here.
Category: Experiments | Views: 518 | Added by: Garfunkel
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