Saturday, 7 April 2012

Post-mortem: Cosmic Hunk

 This will be the first of a series of quick post-mortems of all the games I've participated in so far.


What was this game about?

Cosmic hunk was a turn-based tactical game with rpg elements, which took quite a bit of inspiration from games such as Space Hulk. It was meant to have a storyline that followed the adventures of a small team of soldiers which had to cooperate in order to defeat an alien invasion of their warship. The soldiers were supposed to gain experience by accomplishing objectives and use these to develop their existing skills or unlock new ones.

An image of the "remake" before it was dropped.

What happened?

The original version was a college project but we later started a "remake" to make it more polished and fix the remaining issues. Development of the remake took so long we quickly lost all interest in the project and soon I found myself to be the only programmer, but more on that later.

How was it made?

Using Flash. More to the point, it was originally made for AIR. We were all quite new to the technology at that time.

What did we learn?

A lot!

Planning is important. We went in blind with what we thought was a simple concept but most things were not clearly defined: like how many characters, how the aliens would behave, etc - this resulted in a few arguments which made us waste a lot of time.

 An early gameplay shot. The text was meant to use a custom font,
which had to be installed. You can see a small glitch in the resizing of the
 pictures which only got fixed when the GUI was redone.
Don't overdo the planning! During the remake we had real life meetings to decide most concepts of the game: this turned out to be an amazing waste of time as some people in the team had no interest in things like the implementation of the sound engine. Soon we had a lot of people inexperienced in game design voting on things that wouldn't make the game any fun, non-programmers suggesting things that would make the programmers' jobs hard, and programmers deciding on features that would have made the artists' work a lot more complex.

Most importantly we learned the importance of keeping concepts simple. What seemed like an easy game concept we could use to learn Flash as we went, quickly turned into a bit of a nightmare as we struggled to meet our deadline. Some things, like the main menu, had to be reworked several times in order to function with new features we were adding. We should have started with just a small playable prototype and then added features on top instead of trying to implement them all at once.

  Another early gameplay shot. In this one you can see a recently
 spawned alien and the second soldier the player could control.
A funny story regarding the above paragraph: our "hit probability" and "damage" functions were based on a 3 dimensional mathematical function - we never found out if they worked as intended as they were just too complicated to even understand. 

Version control: we didn't use any sort of VCS at first. Yeah, huge mistake. Nothing too serious happened but it was an incredible hassle to keep the code coherent - not to mention most of the time only one person was able to code.

The original GUI was very annoying to use and relied on repeated clicking of arrow icons in order to move the soldier. As mention before, we hadn't planned it and just limited ourselves to making it up as we went along. In the remake we created a new "overlay" system that would not only let you move directly to a location, but also show contextual skills (like "use") only when they were needed.

 A briefing screen. The voice acting and dialogue
was incrediblycheesy but added a lot of fun to the game.
Artists are important! We still haven't fixed this in our future projects, but development of both versions of the game was severely stalled because we had no dedicated artists. As such, the programmers felt like there was no need to rush and development slowed down considerably even though the engine and design was progressing nicely. We had several artists throughout the story of this project but none of them produced consistent work or were interested in the game itself (or game development in general). Soon we found ourselves with more promising games ahead of us and decided it wasn't worth the hassle to keep looking for artwork.