Ludum Dare Postmortem: TeleMage

Last time I did a postmortem of Chaintanks, my entry for the most recent Ludum Dare. Chaintanks wasn’t the first game I’ve done for Ludum Dare, however. The first was TeleMage, a game where you try to kill a bunch of enemies in an arena using only a spell that lets you switch places with an enemy.

It didn’t turn out too badly, but looking back on it I think it wasn’t as fun to play as Chaintanks. It looks like people who played it agree; Chaintanks was rated 5th overall in the ‘fun’ category, while TeleMage was all the way down at 236. I want my future games to be as good as possible, so let’s take a look back at it and dig into why it wasn’t so great.

Free Playtesting!

On a whim I googled TeleMage and found that someone actually made a video of them playing it! Having people play your game and give feedback is a critical game design tool. Watching them play and comment on the experience is even better, so finding this video was a huge help for looking back at the game!

As I watched them play it was pretty clear they didn’t quite see what I was going for with the teleport mechanic. Rather than teleport enemies into their own attacks, bullets, or traps, they used it a bit to try and get them to walk into the flames but not a lot else.

TeleMage screenshot
The first level in TeleMage

The teleport spell worked by shooting a bullet that would cause you to switch places with an enemy. Near the end of the jam I modified it to also freeze the enemy in place for a bit so you could swap them into a trap that was about to activate, or put them in front of another enemy’s attack to make them hit each other and not be able to escape.

I think the mechanic is interesting, but that’s not worth much if the player doesn’t understand it or if they think it’s crap. Seeing this player fail to use it ‘properly’ seems to show that I might not of conveyed its usefulness well enough before dropping them into the game. It may also mean I simply didn’t give the player different things to do with it. All the player can really do is teleport enemies into the flamethrowers, or in front of enemy attacks.

If the teleport mechanic is simply not fun or not actually very useful, I can’t sit atop my ivory tower and insist that it’s a great mechanic and players simply don’t understand it. If I were to take TeleMage further, I’d need to iterate on the design to it to discover if it’s worth pursing or not.

What can be Done?

I could try doing what I did for Chaintanks and throw in a simple tips screen with some screenshots that illustrate what I was going for with the mechanic. If I had time, or if I was making a full game out of it I could do a typical tutorial with dialog boxes and freeze the game to hold the player’s hand while they learn the mechanic.

As far as game designers go I’m a total scrub at the moment. I’m also a gamer; I’ve played games since I was five and I can use that as an alternate point of view for this problem. As a game designer scrub, I might think a tutorial or tips screen is sufficient, but as a gamer I don’t think it would do much to get me engaged with the game. Let’s try something a little bit different then:

Telemage hypothetical tutorial
Teleport bullets travel faster than fireballs, which lets you hit the caster with his own attacks.

The player on the left is separated by the water from the caster on the right. The only way to beat this level is to teleport the caster into his own bullets, and it’s more or less the only thing the player can do other than fire at the walls. Even if they don’t understand the mechanic, there’s a good chance they’ll stumble across it by accident in order to simply avoid the fireballs. Or is there? This is a great example of something I could test with real players.

This wouldn’t be the end of the process of refining the teleport spell. As I go I’d have to make refinements to how it works, and more importantly to things in the environment to give the player more to do with it. In the end it could simply turn out that it’s an interesting idea in theory, but in practice it doesn’t make a fun game.

I’ve also thought about the possibility of turning it into a puzzle game. I’m not a big fan of puzzle games though, and I’ve never tried to make one so it’s probably not the best idea, but it could be worth investigating someday.

Back to work!

Looking back at TeleMage has been good game design practice, but for now I’m going to continue working on Chaintanks. I may revisit TeleMage in the future, but if the ratings on the games are any indication, it might not be worth it.

Now that the Christmas break is over, I’ll be getting back to work on Chaintanks and will have a new devlog out soon! I’ll be posting new builds of the game from time to time to get feedback, so be sure to check back!

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